All posts by walklikeaman

Disconnect

The news cycle is dominated by stories of bad behavior by men.  The “Me -Too” movement has exposed countless examples of sexual abuse and harassment by men especially by men in powerful positions.   It has galvanized women to become more involved in politics and to add new energy to gender equality issues – equal pay, paid maternity leave, etc..   The call to finally put an end to male supremacy in all walks of life is again at the forefront of the feminist agenda.  Nothing mentioned should be opposed by thoughtful men who respect the best of their masculinity   However,  there seems to be unintended consequences..  According to the LA Times, only about half of all boys expect to work in well-paid professional jobs when they grow up, compared to nearly three quarters of girls. In other words, we’re somehow teaching young boys that either learning is ‘girl’s stuff’, or that there’s no point in being aspirational.

There appears to be an enormous disconnect between the beliefs and behavior of adult men –  the patriarchy  – with the beliefs of boys.   Yes, a small percentage of men have looked to the retrograde “manosphere” to reinforce their attitudes about male supremacy.  On the other hand, the vast majority of adult men, without feeling overly defensive about their masculinity, have rallied to support gender equality and championed the end of sexual abuse not only in the workplace but in all aspects of society.   But what about our boys?   Does the data reported in the LA Times suggest that many boys have simply given up and see manhood as being subjugated by matriarchy?  What will the result be if boys have given up?   One could easily make the argument that the school shooters are non-aspirational lost boys who have channeled their powerlessness into pointless violent acts.   If we ignore our lost boys we not only increase the risk of violent acts but lose the potential that these boys can contribute to our society.  Educators and parents need to make sure that we are not losing our boys and find ways to help them take pride in their gender that is not based on the diminishment of women.

Hopefully we can expand the conversation about male dominance and gender equality to include the impact on those men young and old who are struggling to recalibrate their attitudes about their masculinity.  Girls are rightfully being given the message that they can achieve their fullest potential without fear of sexual abuse and gender discrimination.    What message are we giving our boys?

Me Too Backlash?

Recently a Meet Up invitation arrived in my mailbox with just one word as a descriptor – Fight Club.   Intrigued,  I wondered if this was just a direct reference to the 1999 movie Fight Club or was this a symbolic invitation to join the hyper masculine “manosphere.”   After further research I came across two other online communities who also worship the gospel of Fight Club.  The Red Pill, which describes itself as a place for “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture lacking a positive identity for men,” and the more hard line group Men Going Their Own Way(MGTOW), which refuses to engage in any relationship with women whatsoever. Members from both groups see Fight Club as a story of redemption, the tale of a beta male achieving his true alpha potential. The manosphere’s affinity for Fight Club stems from a common central, biologically deterministic claim: ” Men are naturally predisposed to being violent, dominant hunter gatherers, who, having found themselves domesticated by modern civilization, are now in a state of crisis”.

My sense is that increased attention to the “manosphere” is a result of the perception that the  “Me Too” movement is an attack on men and masculinity.  Men are on the defensive and many feel they have to apologize not so much for their own behavior but for the gender in general.   My concern is that the unintended consequence of  “Me Too” will push more men into to seek refuge in the  manosphere  which will only bring more polarization and less of the constructive dialogue that is desperately needed to restore common sense in the workplace.    It is crucial that the same mistakes made by many of the diversity programs adopted by corporate America will not be repeated by sexual harassment programs.   The data suggests that overly prescriptive trainings focusing on do’s and dont’s have actually impeded workplace diversity.   Introspection and constructive dialogue between men and women in the work environment  is needed and will only happen if we lower the temperature of the most strident voices and avoid the inevitable gender wars with casualties on both sides.

 

Men Under Siege – II

The fallout from the sexual predator scandals continues – as it should – but it has also given voice to what I characterize as an assault on masculinity.  Gillian Flynn writing in Time Magazine in a piece entitled “On Men” wrote “They (men) hate us … They don’t care about us enough to hate us.  We are simply a form of livestock.”  She goes on to say, “Threats to women abound.  We are underrepresented everywhere, underpaid by everyone and underestimated all over.  We are not the People; we are subjects of the Patriarchy.”  Faith Salie, also writing in Time magazine, indicated her pleasure that her husband did not call their new born son “buddy” or “little man” rather referring to him as “Hi, sweet pea.”   Salie stated that she wants to raise a sweet son so that he will not become an angry man.

If these two women who were given the platform of a major mainstream magazine to voice their opinions on gender truly represent the thinking of a majority of women men are clearly under siege.   To begin with, they ignore the data that demonstrates how young women and girls are doing a heck of a lot better than their male counterparts.   More women than men are entering college.   Women now make up a majority of law students and almost equal the number of men accepted to medical school.   Boys are far more likely to drop out of high school, commit crimes and generally underperform academically compared to girls.   It certainly appears that the era of patriarchy is quickly evaporating for boys and millennials.

The quote that men see women as a form of livestock is particularly confusing and raises a myriad of questions regarding the way men and women relate to each other.   Being attractive to the opposite sex is a biological imperative embedded in our DNA.   Women and men are instinctively seeking the partner that will perpetuate their genes and protect their offspring.  Isn’t that the reason why women wear perfume, use make up and consciously choose clothing that is most flattering?  Despite the first generation feminists who burned their bras and forsook cosmetics the beauty and lingerie industries have continued to thrive.   Men, in addition to desiring to be physically attractive also strive to compete both financially and athletically in order to demonstrate their superiority as potential mates.   I recognize that we are not entirely driven by evolutionary imperatives but we are foolish if we discount the power of our biology.

The real question is how do men and women negotiate their instinct driven sexuality in the workplace?   I will avoid simplistic solutions such as turning men into Salie’s sweet peas or wholesome condemnation of men as mere predators.   To begin with, there is no shortage of exposure to sexually infused imagery in popular culture.   Scantily clad twerking dancers and cheer leaders, string bikinis  and Victoria Secret bra ads on prime time television all highlight women as sex objects.   Women willingly participate in the process and keep plastic surgeons wealthy.   Although some feminists advocate women asking men out on dates, I think in most cases it is still the male  who responds to what is perceived as flirtation which leads to initiating a request for a date or romantic encounter.  These are just some of the realities that exist between men and women as they relate to each other.

It should also be noted that power discrepancies at work are not just gender based.   Men often have to put up with demands of overbearing bosses in order to advance their careers.   Unwanted golf outings, boring dinners and laughing at bad jokes are just a few examples of what men have to tolerate in order to succeed.  Granted, having to have sex with a boss is far more onerous but we can’t discount the fact that power relationships at work exist for both sexes.

My conclusion is that harsh rhetoric and wholesale condemnation of men will only lead to more confusion and a lack of understanding of how to behave appropriately in the workplace.   I feel that in closing I must clearly state that sexual harassment and abuse as defined by law (see earlier blogs for definition) are entirely unacceptable and should hold individuals who are offenders accountable.  The core issue is recognizing how men and women relate to each other and re-negotiating how we manage our biological differences that enhances the value of both men and women.

New Rules

A recent article in my local paper reported that male state legislators are refusing to meet with female lobbyists unless another individual is present for fear of being accused of sexual harassment.   If this is any indication of what is happening in the workplace as a result of the spate of abusers being outted  by the “me too” movement it is obvious that we need some new rules on how men and women interact at work beyond the obvious legal definitions of sexual harassment  and hostile work environments.   It appears that managers of profit and non-profit organizations are responding by increasing their sexual harassment training programs – a financial windfall for management consultants.  My sense is that these trainings will be insufficient in solving the problem so I have a different remedy.

Female employees should be given a questionnaire to complete with the following items about male behavior in the workplace:

————————————————————————————-

(Please check one or more answers for each question)

  1. Men are able to comment on my appearance

_____ never   _____ clothing only ______ at times if I am wearing my OK to comment button

  1. When I am called into my male bosses office

_____ the door stays open  ____ another colleague is present  ______ he remains at least 2 feet from my chair ______  the meeting is recorded  _____ all of the above

  1. I am open to a request for a date from a male colleague of equal status in the company

____ never _____ depends on whether he is single ____  when I am in the mood (red pin day)

  1. If my boss suggests we have an afterhours dinner or drinks meeting I will

____ turn him down _____ accept only if I can pick the location ______ make sure another colleague is also there ______ go for it and take my chances

  1. If a male colleague or boss offers to tell me a joke I will

____ say no thanks  ____ ask him if it is sexual and then decide  ____  offer to tell him myjoke instead ____ listen and tell him it was not funny or gross

————————————————————————————–After completing the questionnaire the female employee will be issued a badge that is color coded as to her preferences.   In turn all male employees (including bosses) will be given instructions on how to interpret the color codes on the badges of the female staff.   Any violations of the protocol will be made to HR and the transgressor will have to attend a mandatory training workshop.

It should be obvious that my suggestion is being offered with my tongue firmly in my cheek.  However, the underlying message is that we have reached a point of utter confusion as to how men and women should relate to each other in the workplace and that maybe a little bit of humor and common sense can ease the tension between the sexes.

 

Men Under Siege

It feels like all out warfare on masculinity.    Weinstein, Spacey, Moore, Franken, Rose, Conyers and whomever else will be outted as a sexual predator in the coming days are dominating the news cycle.   Women in droves are recalling incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace.   What conclusions can we draw?   Are most men abusers or a hair trigger away from mistreating women or are we talking about a basket of deplorables?   I would like to think, based on my own life experiences,  that men who use their positions of power over women and believe that this gives them license to be abusers on some level are in the minority.   I have worked as a boss in small and large organizations where many of the employees were women and I can recall only one instance where I had to investigate an incident of sexual harassment nor was any complaint ever made against me for improper behavior towards any of my female subordinates.  I have met hundreds of men facilitating men’s groups and never came in contact with a man who was either accused of sexual assault or who bragged about exploiting women in the workplace.  On the other hand I do remember that my first boss, a school principal, was notorious in attempting to solicit sexual favors from the women on staff.

The reaction by so many women to the sexual abuses scandals can’t be dismissed.   In earlier blogs I did call attention to the issue of defining sexual harassment.  As in criminal law, some offenses are misdemeanors and some are felonies.   We need to make sure that we are using a similar standard when discussing sexual conduct.   An off color joke or improper  remark is not the same as groping or explicitly requiring sex for continuing employment or promotion.    What’s next?

The female talking heads in the media need to bring more nuance to the discussion and treat the minor  harassment issues as more of a cultural issue than a criminal issue.   No problem with aggressively pursuing the true predators and making sure they receive the full punishment proscribed in the law.  However, if we are going to have a shift in workplace culture, give the majority of men who are thoughtful and willing to look at their own behavior the opportunity to participate in the change process without condemning them as actual or potential abusers.

 

Men’s Issues Make Headlines

Lately, there have been considerable attention in the media about masculinity and the behavior of the male gender.   The most recent is the Weinstein sexual harassment scandal.  Another powerful man acting badly.   No defense of  his deplorable behavior but some of the backlash in the press again makes it seem that women are subject to constant and widespread sexual harassment in the workplace.   An earlier blog,  Gretchen Carlson: “Every damn woman still has a story’ about harassment” raised concerns about some of the definitions of sexual harassment and how this is phrased in the questions on surveys that report a virtual epidemic of men behaving badly.  Glamour industries like film and television are more prone to the casting couch phenomenon of sexual abuse.  Let’s not create an atmosphere of wholesale gender mistrust in every workplace.

The Las Vegas tragedy also triggered a media backlash focusing on men and violence.    One article stated that men have committed 95% of mass shootings while women only account for 3% of these incidents.    Clearly one can make the case that men are far more prone to violence and martyrdom than women.   This is obviously not a new revelation.   Historically, as feminists are quick to point out, men have been responsible for most of the wars, genocides and overall savagery since recorded time.  Few would argue that the tendency to physical violence is significantly greater for men and this is often coupled with a sense that a real or imagined cause is worth killing and dying for.   Not that women do not have strong beliefs and a firm moral compass but that they seem to be far less willing to put on a suicide vest or fire an automatic weapon to express their outrage or violently act out their inner demons.   Men will not become less aggressive if we just advocate gender neutrality and shaming.   A focus on redirecting the warrior aspect of masculinity in ways that men can harness their aggressiveness to contribute to the benefit of society.   Assertiveness for the general good should be perceived as more manly than a gun rack in a pickup truck.

A media story that underscored taking gender equality to an absurd conclusion  focused on two schools in Sweden which banned the words boy and girl.   In their attempt to eliminate gender discrimination – which incidentally is always skewed to a man’s bias against women not the reverse – the schools are trying to perpetuate the myth that gender behavior is solely driven by cultural norms.   By creating their version of a gender neutral classroom and language environment the intent is to have children avoid traditional gender roles thereby insuring gender equality.    There are far better and less confusing practices that enhance gender equality without pretending that boys and girls are really the same except for a few minor anatomical differences.  Accept the fact that male energy and female energy are not the same and both can contribute to the general good.

Another disturbing story highlighted the decrease in marriages.   Especially the fact that many women earning good salaries are not finding men suitable for marriage.   “The lack of good jobs for these men is making them less and less attractive to women in the marriage market, and women, with their greater earnings, can do fine remaining single,” says Bertrand, the Chicago economist. “For gender identity reasons, these men may not want to enter into marriages with women who are dominating them economically, even if this would make economic sense to them.”

So what are men challenged by economic inferiority to do?  One expert recommends that if one is able to specialize in areas that are harder to automate – jobs that require problem-solving and creativity –  men will benefit. But those jobs also often require more education.

Then comes the much more complex issue of gender norms and expectations.   There are individual choices to be made at a personal level for men to take on traditionally feminine work, or for heterosexual couples to settle on a situation where the wife brings home the bacon.  But these individual choices don’t happen in a vacuum — they’re necessarily informed by the broader culture.

“Traditional masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men’s employment,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin said in an interview. “We have a cultural lag where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change in the job market.” (This was captured in a recent New York Times headline: “Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree.”)

Long Term Wife Insurance

Hard to believe but a local jewelry store has a huge banner with the words “Long Term Wife Insurance” hanging  above the store entrance with the word “wife” highlighted in red.   When I first saw it I thought  I was either stepping out of a time machine in the 1950’s or looking at a movie set for a Back to The Future sequel.   The message, even though probably a bit of tongue in cheek, is that giving your wife an expensive piece of jewelry will somehow contribute to a harmonious relationship with her.   Actually this message, somewhat more subtly, is also embedded in the advertisements for several major retail jewelry chain stores.

The issue that surfaces is whether or not the notion that it is a man’s place to provide his spouse/partner with luxury gifts to keep a relationship balanced is a product of old school masculinity?   I would imagine that the feminist community would disabuse this demand upon men yet I wonder how many women actually overtly or covertly agree that their husband/boyfriend should be giving them generous gifts.   Again, men are faced with a mixed message that further reinforces their confusion of what masculinity looks like in our modern world.   Should a man, to the best of his financial ability, shower expensive gifts on his significant other because she will view it as a sign of devotion?   Similarly. deciding whether to hold doors open for women, whether to  pick up the check for dinner and to engage in other behaviors  associated with what used to be called chivalry adds to the dilemma men face in their daily interactions  with women.

The term chivalry retains a certain currency in sociology, in reference to the general tendency of men, and of society in general, to lend more attention offering protection from harm to women than to men.  I imagine women are not unanimous in their expectations of male behavior.  Some perceive chivalrous behavior as demeaning and a symbolic of patriarchy while others appreciate the attention of a more old school chivalrous man.  One more dilemma for men.   How shall I interact with women when there is no accepted standard of behavior.   If I am chivalrous  will she think of me as a sexist pig?   If I don’t hold open doors and act protectively will she think of me as disrespectful and insensitive?  No wonder men are increasingly unsure of themselves and tentative in their dealings with the women in their lives.

Snowflake

When Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed the reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses, some members of the alt-right press and the twitter world labeled Jacobs as a “snowflake.”  A snowflake is currently the term attributed to a fragile, emasculated boy-man cry baby that has replaced “wuss” and other assorted feminizing expletives.  According  to a recent piece in the New York Times the term snowflake owes its origin to the 1996 novel “Fight Club.”  In the novel club members who are seeking a new social model for men to share their lives repeat a mantra, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”  What was the  labeling of Jacobs as a snowflake intending to convey?   Since Jacob’s response to being assaulted was pressing charges instead of trying to hit Gianforte back he was now seen as less of a man.  I guess the name callers felt that after being physically beaten a real man just walks away and accepts his fate.

It appears that the hyper- masculine Neanderthal movement is so confused by a new paradigm of masculinity that they feel they must revert to the mythical notions of masculinity instead of embracing a pride in masculinity that is not based on false stereotypes.   In the Gianforte vs. Jacobs incident we can see that Gianforte unleashed his warrior archetype with physical aggression.   He was annoyed with Jacobs questioning and responded with a violent attack.   Jacobs, instead of trying to fight back, left the room and then filed assault charges against Gianforte.   Is Jacobs less of a man because he didn’t respond physically?   Certainly not.   He unleashed his warrior assertively without violence.   He didn’t just walk away with his tail between his legs admitting to being dominated by a physically superior adversary.  Instead he responded to the bully utilizing the law and the court of public opinion.   Despite the Neanderthals cheering Gianforte’s actions he was ordered to pay a fine, perform community service and take anger management training.  He also avoided a civil lawsuit by writing a letter of apology to Jacobs and donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The take away is that choosing an assertive response that may not fit the traditional mold of violent confrontation is still manly and far from being pigeon holed as a delicate snowflake.  However, given the Jacobs name calling aftermath it is obvious that a segment of the male population is still having a hard time accepting that attributes such as compassion, non-violent assertiveness, thoughtful advocacy and respecting women are traits of a modern real man not a feminized snowflake.

Fathering Matters

As Father’s Day approaches it is important to focus on the many benefits children derive from being well fathered.   The role of fathers has changed considerably and understanding how men can fulfill this role in our modern society is important.   It is only since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (about 200 years ago) that a father’s role has shifted so dramatically.  Although a father continued in his role as the primary provider he became far less present for day to day protecting and teaching.  However, despite changing roles men with children still seek to have a portion of their mastery needs met by being perceived as good fathers.  Unfortunately, for many men, this has become focused entirely on providing. In modern society this means working at a job away from the family.  Men, therefore, have become increasingly isolated from the routines of family life with the results being that they feel validated only as sperm donors and as check writers.

This narrowing of the source of validation has created a number of consequences for men and their families.  Frequently men abandon their families entirely when their ability to earn has been curtailed.  Rather than remain in the home, without sufficient validation as a provider and its resultant negative impact on a man’s need for self-worth, men have sought other ways to prove their worth often in a manner that is harmful to themselves or others.  Additionally as men become increasingly involved in their work life away from home there is little left to contribute to the day to day life of the family.

The consequences of this emotional rather than physical abandonment of the family are considerable.  For example, recent research has shown that teenagers who don’t get along with their fathers in two-parent families are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs than those raised by single mothers.  According to a recent report by the National Center on Addiction And Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children raised by their mother alone were 30 percent more likely to use drugs than those living in supportive two-parent homes.  But those with two parents who have poor relationships with their father have a 68 percent greater risk.  The study found that mothers influence their children’s important decisions three times as often as fathers do and are more likely to have private talks about drugs.

Beyond the obvious increased risks of substance abuse, there are other more subtle consequences of emotional abandonment by fathers.  Fathers do things a little bit differently with their children than mothers.  This special parenting style is not only highly complementary to what mothers do but is by all indication important in its own right for optimum child rearing.  For example, studies have shown that fathers play differently with their children than mothers.  A father’s play behavior tends to be more physically stimulating and exciting.  It tends to challenge a child’s physical and mental skills while emphasizing risk taking and independence while mothers focus more on emotional security and personal safety.  Both styles are important underscoring a clear message that becoming a mature and competent adult involves the integration of two somewhat contradictory human needs – power expressed as independence/individuality and love and belonging expressed as connectedness.  Fathers tend to focus on the former while mothers on the later.  When a father removes himself from the family either physically or emotionally important components of raising healthy children fall solely to the mother, stretching her ability to take on roles that are better suited for an involved father.

The challenge for men is to redefine their picture of how they satisfy their needs as fathers.  This especially true for the way men fulfill their roles as protectors. As mentioned, protection in our modern world is very different than in the past.  The job of protector was easier to define when our predators were four legged or members of an invading tribe.  The threats to our children’s well being are far more subtle and removed and require a different skill set to protect the family.  Instead of brute strength or accuracy with a weapon, fathers must orient themselves to teaching responsible decision making, problem solving and independent thinking.  To be good at it men must be especially mindful of those effective communication techniques that promote listening and two-way conversation.   Men have a tendency to problem solve before validating feelings and this can substantially impair their ability to coach their children.  As Gail Sheehy writes’ “They (men) are discovering a secret that women have always known: The easiest way to fell loved and needed and ten feet tall is to be an involved parent.” (New Passages, pg.281).

Gretchen Carlson: “Every damn woman still has a story’ about harassment”

If we take ex Fox News commentator Carlson’s quote literally being a man takes another hit.   Are men so sex crazed that we see women in the workplace and on college campuses as sex objects ripe for exploitation?   Based on survey results it would appear that the answer to the question is yes.  Personally, I have a hard time accepting that men as a group are behaving that badly.  I am concerned that men internalize these stories reinforcing the notion that masculine energy is a negative quality.  It just adds another piece of evidence for the growing gender confusion among young adult men and reinforcing the reactionary push back from the cave man minority.  Let me be clear, I in no way condone any form of sexual harassment.

However, I believe we need to have a more nuanced conversation on what we are talking about.  As is typical of our bullet point media the confusion surrounding what actually is sexual harassment is not adequately addressed.   A glaring example is the disparity between the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) definition of workplace sexual harassment compared to the verbiage of federal and state statutes.   The AAUW definition is quite broad and states that sexual harassment as any, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”  On the other hand the EEOC and most states define sexual harassment as two legally recognized types  – quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an individual’s submission to or rejection of sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual or the individual’s submission to such conduct is made a term or condition of employment.   Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s job performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment even though the harassment may not result in tangible or economic job consequences, that is, the person may not lose pay or a promotion.

A hypothetical  illustration should prove useful in highlighting the problem of defining sexual harassment.

Amy is a customer service representative at an insurance company.  She works in a cubicle adjacent to Larry.   Larry is married and generally not an individual Amy relates to in the work environment.   One afternoon near quitting time, Larry peeks in to Amy’s cubicle and says that she is a piece of ass and he would like to take her out, get her drunk and take her back to her apartment for an evening of sexual activity.   He describes what he would like to do with her in bed in sexually explicit language.   Amy tells him that he is inappropriate and to never talk to her like that again.

According to the AAUW guidelines Amy was subjected to sexual harassment and would so indicate on an AAUW survey asking if she ever was a victim of sexual harassment.   However, in terms of state and federal law if this was a onetime incident with Larry it would not constitute harassment and a survey using state statuary language would have Amy indicate she is not a victim.  Certainly if Larry continued to make these advances despite Amy telling him to stop she would have a legitimate claim under the hostile work environment definition and should immediately report him to her human relations (HR) department and possibly seek relief legally if HR doesn’t address the issue.   Even if Larry were Amy’s supervisor and he did not indicate or suggest in any way that his proposition would effect her employment status it would not constitute sexual harassment under legal guidelines but would engender a yes on an AAUW survey.

The distinctions between the two standards of sexual harassment have a significant impact on the conversation about harassment and what can be done about it.   If we just use the AAUW definition then Gretchen’s comment is indeed true and we live in a world of perpetual sexual harassment.   The outcome is that men in the workplace will be constantly walking on eggshells around female colleagues and subordinates, feel more insecure about their masculine identity and most importantly we will lose focus on eliminating the truly damaging cases of sexual harassment.   If HR folks and lawyers are overloaded with the superfluous how can they deal with the truly serious cases?

Both sexes will be better served if he follow the federal guidelines and investigate and punish the true sexual harassers.