Global Boyhood Initiative

When I saw the headline “Global Boyhood Initiative” on an online article I got excited.  My thought was that some of the issues raised in my last blog about lost boys was being addressed by some international organization.  My excitement quickly dissipated as I read the article.  Apparently, Prince Harry and his wife Megan have decided to support the organization based on Harry’s perception of how toxic masculinity affected his life.  Not being a particular fan of the prince I tried to put that bias behind and learn about the initiative’s goals and platform. They believe that toxic masculinity is a major problem and can only be eliminated by a curriculum to make boys less toxic. In previous blogs I have discussed toxic masculinity and its impact on the perception of masculinity. It is defined by misogyny and patriarchy and fortunately is an attribute of a minority sub culture that uses social media to exaggerate its presence as a threat to gender equality. Frankly, it is an insufficient threat to warrant a global program to reeducate boys considering the gains made by women as a result of the feminist and “me too” movements. 

I found the following phrase in the initiative’s platform particularly ridiculous.  It states that “gendering our children even before birth” is a problem.  I guess the fact that mother nature or God, depending upon your belief system, didn’t create XX or XY chromosomes which dictate gender and its subsequent hormonal and anatomical differences among human beings. Gendering is not a social construct.

Their platform also states that “sex segregated sports systematically strengthens traditional gender binaries and legitimizes biological differences.”  There are biological differences that result in gender separated sports being competitive for both men and women.  Title 9, which revolutionized women’s sports, has profoundly increased participation in sports for females and any homogenizing of sports with a non-binary approach would return female athletes to the dark ages.  

I am fairly certain that Prince Harry might be seeking to explain his troubled youth on how he defined his masculinity.  However, there were far more traumatic events that shaped his personality than toxic masculinity.  I would hope that Harry and Megan would look at the data about how boys are struggling and support a more rational approach to dealing with the serious issues of lost boys. 

Falling Behind: What’s the matter with men?

A lengthy New Yorker article (1/30) containing a  review of a new book by Richard V. Reeves entitled “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It” highlights the many areas where boys and men are failing.  The data is overwhelming and leads one to conclude that men have become the second sex. In academic performance, boys are well behind girls in elementary school, high school and college where the gender ratio is close to two female undergraduates for every one male.  In addition, women are currenly the majority of medical and law students. Men are increasingly dropping out of work during their prime working years, overdosing, drinking themselves to death and generally dying earlier – including suicide.  Even an egalitarian country like Sweden has observed the decline in male performance compared to their female population.  They even have a word, pojkkrisen ,  (boy crisis), that Swedish researchers use to define the situation.

Reeves posits that the rapid liberation of women and the labor market shifts toward brains and away from brawn have left men facing cultural redundancy and boys floundering.   Reeves feels that things have become so bad, especially for black men and white men without a college degrees. that emergency social repairs are needed.  Reeves writes. “It is like the needles on magnetic compass reversing their polarity. Suddenly working for gender equality means focusing on boys rather than girls.”

Some progressives have little sympathy for the plight of men and boys. They argue that the detoxification of masculinity is a messy and necessary process and sore losers of underserved privilege don’t merit much sympathy.  However, the social cost of ignoring the new gender gap is too great to ignore.  One unfortunate  result is a resurgence of toxic masculinity.  The “manosphere” is replete with “Incel” misogyny and comments from some on the right that America has become weak because of the loss of traditional manliness. 

Reeves response to the gender gap is to advocate for fostering a “prosocial masculinity for a post feminist world.”  Specifically his major recommendation is to red shirt boys in Kindergarten.  Since boys develop slower, providing an extra year of Kindergarten will level the playing field in the subsequent grades.  Unfortunately, the data he provides for advocating red shirting is not overwhelming and in fact contradicts studies that show that boys who are left back suffer higher rates of academic dropouts.

As I have blogged in the past the answer to the ever growing gender achievement gap is to redefine masculinity in a way that fosters a pride in masculine energy that is not based on the subjugation of women. Teaching boys in a style that specifically works for them will help close the achievement gap in schnooks.  Adult men can benefit from joining and regularly participating in men’s groups.  We cannot abandon the contributions of half of the population without enormous social and financial consequences.

Real Men Do Cry – II

I was watching Monday Night Football last week and witnessed, along with millions of others, Damar Hamlin’s fall to the ground.  It was obvious that this was not a routine injury as he lay lifeless  on his back.  As the athletic trainers hovered over him many of his teammates formed a wall around the medical personnel to try to protect Damar’s privacy as life support measures were being applied.   What caught my attention while the television announcers were trying to fill the time was the reaction of the players on both teams.  Many of them were openly and unashamedly shedding tears for their fallen comrade.  Additionally, the players on both teams were in agreement that the game should not continue and the NFL agreed.  I doubt that anyone would deny that professional football players fit the label “Real Men.”  The takeaway is that contrary to the outdated stereotype that boys are taught that men don’t cry and don’t express their emotions millions of young men and boys witnessed the emotional response of their heroes.   The manner in which the players reacted to Damar’s condition is further proof that it is time to abandon the real men don’t cry stereotype.

Real Men Do Cry

I think we can all agree that Richard Fierro, the man who attacked and stopped the Q nightclub shooter, is a hero.  Without regard to his own safety he tackled the shooter and prevented the further carnage that the gunman was prepared to inflict on the club patrons.  His action clearly exemplified the best of masculinity.  He quickly assessed the situation, came up with a plan and executed the plan disregarding the risk to his personal safety.  Fierro is a retired Army officer who served four deployments to combat areas where he earned 2 bronze stars for bravery.   Simply put be is a real man by anyone’s standards.

In the hours and days post incident his behavior was noteworthy.  He was besieged by the media and responded with poise and dignity.  He also openly and without apology shed tears.  He saw his daughter’s boyfriend’s dead body in addition to be surrounded by dead, wounded and terrified  patrons.  He was filled with emotion and made no effort to suppress his sadness and anger to anyone who listened to his interviews.   He also expressed a positive message of the importance of caring for one another and the destructiveness of hate.  He spoke of the need for love and caring regardless of sexual and gender orientation.  It is a message which he modeled in his attendance at the club that night even though he self identified as a straight male.

By his behavior Fierro sent a message that a man can on one hand act with incredible bravery and then can openly acknowledge the emotional impact of what he had done and seen during the shooting incident.  A brave real man did cry in public without shame.  Let’s abandon the myth that a real man whose actions exemplify the best of masculinity cannot have a healthy emotional life.   

For The Love of Men

The following appeared on Amazon describing a new book:

“In 2019, traditional masculinity is both rewarded and sanctioned. Men grow up being told that boys don’t cry and dolls are for girls (a newer phenomenon than you might realize—gendered toys came back in vogue as recently as the 80s). They learn they must hide their feelings and anxieties, that their masculinity must constantly be proven. They must be the breadwinners, they must be the romantic pursuers. This hasn’t been good for the culture at large: 99% of school shooters are male; men in fraternities are 300% (!) more likely to commit rape; a woman serving in uniform has a higher likelihood of being assaulted by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire.

In For the Love of Men, Liz offers a smart, insightful, and deeply-researched guide for what we’re all going to do about toxic masculinity. For both women looking to guide the men in their lives and men who want to do better and just don’t know how, For the Love of Men will lead the conversation on men’s issues in a society where so much is changing, but gender roles have remained strangely stagnant.

What are we going to do about men? Liz Plank has the answer. And it has the possibility to change the world for men and women alike.”

Probably not fair to critique a book solely based on its content pitch.   However, there are a multitude of so called facts or opinions that I find highly objectionable in the summary of the book.  To begin with the book’s author is a women. Not to say that a women should not be able to write about masculinity but it is problematic to assume that she is able to truly understand the inner life of a man. 

The opening phrase that “men grow up being told that boys don’t cry and dolls are for girls” is a cliché that does not reflect how most boys are currently being raised nor does it reflect how men – particularly media and sports stars – behave.  In previous blogs I have addressed this with greater depth and noted that this is often the language that female writers use to describe the message they assume that boys are getting from parents and the media but are hard pressed to come up with specific examples other than from the John Wayne era of rugged masculinity.

 Another statement by the author is based on the prevalence of toxic masculinity.  “What we’re all going to do about toxic masculinity” assumes that toxic masculinity is a major issue in our society.  Yes, there are a small minority of men who behave badly and use social media to debase women but for the most part the “Me Too” movement and the prosecution of high profile individuals has made men far more aware of behaviors that could be considered toxic.  In addition, the data on mass murders represents a small sample of men and has more to do with mental health than toxic masculinity.

The statement that “gender roles have remained strangely stagnant” demonstrates a lack of understanding of why gender roles are somewhat rigid.  Women, despite the gains made by the feminist movement and Title IX, tend to gravitate to pink jobs while men continue to seek blue jobs.  I believe this is more than cultural.  Female energy leads many women to seek jobs that are designed to help others and stress interpersonal relationships while male energy favors jobs that are physically demanding and technically oriented.  It is certainly true that women’s roles are probably somewhat less stagnant given the inroads women have made in medicine, law and research.  However, men are still avoiding teaching, nursing and social work despite the demand for these professions.  

Frankly, contrary to the book summary Liz does not have the answer.

Man Pourri – II


I have been on a quest to define what aspects of masculinity are worthy of pride that are not patriarchical or anti feminine.   A recent article referenced a politician who said that many men have lost their self-confidence and no longer represent “the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage, and independence and assertiveness.”  The irony is that the article was about Liz Cheney.  Again, the dilemma. If traditional masculine virtues can be attributed to a women are they no longer traditional masculine virtues?   What about the willingness to defy convention, and stand up to a crowd and refuse to go with the flow when faced with a core question of right vs. wrong.  Are men more likely to value the aforementioned virtues than women?  Can a man respond to the question, “Why are you proud to be a man?”  by walking the walk and living a life of courage, independence, assertiveness and standing up to a crowd?   Notwithstanding that there are women who take pride in the “traditional” masculine virtues. I believe that men hold these virtues as a more essential part of their male identity that they can be proud of.

Both Ways

After Florence Pugh, academy award nominated actress drew criticism for wearing a gown that clearly exposed her nipples in a Rome fashion event earlier this week, she took to Instagram to defend her bold style choice.

“What’s been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see,” she continued. “It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what’s worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be.”

Instead of taking responsibility for triggering an onslaught of controversy with her trashing norms by going to a public event essentially half naked she blames men.  According to her thinking the fact that she sexualized herself with this choice of a gown she is still appalled that some men responded to her in a sexual manner by commenting on breast size.  My message to Florence is that if you do not want to  be treated as a sex object do not so overtly draw attention to your almost bare breasts in a public media covered event. 


An opinion piece in my local newspaper, written by a man, highlighted that historically 98% of mass shootings in the US have been committed by men.  Using this factoid he then writes a diatribe indicting all American men.  ” What’s wrong with American men?  What is it in our culture, in the things we teach them, in the way we socialize them, that so often leaves boys and men with this grotesque sense of entitlement, this ability to decide that because they are having a bad day, because they got their feelings hurt, because life hasn’t gone as they wished, they have a right to whip out a gun and make innocent strangers pay?”

Yes, the mass shooters typically are young angry men who are socially isolated who have not been able to achieve even a modicum of success in their lives.  However, indicating that their motivation is based on some sort of culturally taught male entitlement is absurd.  The evidence indicates that these shooters were often boys who were loners, bullied and raised in a dysfunctional family environment.  They have fallen through the cracks of our inadequate mental health system and the lack of empathy for those who are in  need of  our help that are culture seems to reinforce especially for boys and men.  Don’t blame men for mass shootings.  The problem is far greater than gender.  A lack of compassion and willingness to devote resources to address mental health and well being is the issue we should be talking about for both men and women. 

Man Pourri

Incidental Masculinity

I came across the phrase “incidental masculinity” in a true story about the attraction to a man from a gay women.  She was breaking up with a girlfriend and simultaneously developing a platonic love for a man she met while performing in a college play.  What intrigued me was that despite her sexual attraction to women, there was something about male energy that was so appealing to her. The fact that the attraction wasn’t sexual is of interest.  His manliness fit a need that could not be fulfilled by a women.  In the story she did not elaborate on exactly what characteristics or traits of manliness that attracted her but my guess was his projection of quiet strength, confidence and emotional protection.  Score one for positive masculinity.

Fantasy Sports

The author of the article on the attraction of a fantasy sports league answered his own question,”Why was I there?  The straightforward answer is because my friends were, and I wanted to be with them. The actual draft was secondary to the event’s social function — an excuse to stay in touch, which has become increasingly difficult since I moved to the East Coast in 2012.” A survey quoted by the author found that 81% of fantasy participants were men in the peak of so called friendship collecting years – 18 to 34.  After 34 men become more attentive to work, family and consequently do not have the time and energy necessary to maintain friendships.

This is a process that many people experience and that a body of literature gives anecdotal and statistical credence to the notion that male friendships start to evaporate. “Men Have No Friends,” reads the headline of a 2019 Harper’s Bazaar article by Melanie Hamlett,  “Last year, the Survey Center on American Life found that the number of American adults with three or fewer close friends leaped from 27 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2021, with 15%of men having no close friendships at all, a fivefold increase since 1990.  In addition, men are significantly less likely than women to discuss personal matters with the friends they do have.  Frankly, there is no shortage of data to support the myriad of health risks sustained by loneliness. 

“Loneliness can kill you,” reads one especially bleak subhead on a 2020 article from the University of Miami Health System. A November Psychology Today article claims that loneliness can shorten your life, describing side effects that include cardiovascular disease and stroke — even suicide. “Loneliness is as much of a health risk for men as smoking or being overweight,” reads a 2021 article at UCLA Health, citing Psychiatry Research. It “increases cancer risk by 10 percent, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and other risk factors.”

Fantasy sports can be a partial antidote to increasing male friendships but there is a downside.  On one hand meeting with your league partners- especially if can happen face to face – does offer a satisfying sense of camaraderie but without intimacy.   Better than loneliness but insufficient to make up for the friendships of an earlier stage of life.  Unfortunately, if the particular league goes virtual there is no chance for intimacy and in fact the online occupation with the fantasy world could easily divert men from the time and energy to form close friendships.   A better and more sustainable road to friendships is joining an on-going men’s group.

Aspirational Masculinity

A new way of talking to boys about being boys is being promoted as aspirational masculinity.  The idea is that we need to talk to boys about their gender without focusing on the negative qualities that men have been associated with – toxic masculinity and the rigid man code. According to former professional football player Don McPherson — who is now a writer, activist, educator and the founder of the aspirational approach – is that previous efforts in communicating about masculinity to boys has failed.  A big reason for this failure is inadequate vocabulary. Parents and caregivers to girls can rely on the word “feminism” should they want to frame girlhood as both positive and dynamic. Calling one’s daughter a “feminist” allows for change and progress without limiting girls or criticizing femininity. With boys, there was no such term.  McPherson explains the concept as follows, “We need to stop only asking boys and men to make space for others and instead ask men to make new spaces for themselves that aren’t confined to the narrow definitions of masculinity.”  Sounds good but nowhere in the description of his program does he address the notion of pride in being a boy/man that doesn’t simply mean making boys more aware of feminine needs and characteristics.  The assumption seems to be that fighting against patriarchal behaviors will automatically make better men.   What about defining for boys the virtues of being a man in the light rather than simply being an apologist for men in the shadow.

Hegemonic Masculinity

The authors of new research on masculinity have previously found that the endorsement of “hegemonic masculinity” – an idealized form of masculinity – was associated with support for Donald Trump.

They wrote,  “In collaboration with my advisor, Dr. Theresa Vescio, we found that the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, or the belief that men should be high in power/status, should be tough, and should be nothing like women, was related to support for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential elections.”

In addition, the participants who completed the Male Role Norms Scale and who scored high on this measure of hegemonic masculinity were more likely, in general, to vote for conservative candidates.   

I must confess that this is the first time I have come across the term “Hegemonic Masculinity.”  It seems that this descriptor is similar to “toxic masculinity and hyper masculinity” but it appears to be used exclusively with the Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS).  Another term used to validate the MRNS results is “TMI – traditional male ideology” which has been used in research articles that report an association of high scores with an adverse effect on a man’s mental health. 

I was obviously prompted to explore the MRNS items to see not only how I would score but to form my own opinion as to its validity in attempting to define masculinity.  The scale has several forms with the 21 item short form deemed most useful to mental health professionals.  Each item is to be scored from 1 – 7 with 7 meaning strong agreement.

I will share some items from the scale with my comments.

1. Success in his work has to be a man’s central goal in this life.

(Does the word work mean one’s overall purpose or occupation?  If I interpret work in the broader sense I would rate it a 7.  If strictly an occupation I might be a 4.  Could we substitute person instead of man and get the same response? If a stay at home mom saw child rearing has her work she would rate this as a 7.)

2. The best way for a young man to get the respect of other people is to get a job, take it seriously, and do it well.

( Why is doing your job, whatever it might be, seriously and with excellence a hegemonic notion?  Not taking you job seriously is a sign of weak character not non-masculine behavior.)

5. A man always deserves the respect of his wife and children.

(The ambiguity is how we interpret deserve.  If we are a good mother or father we always deserve respect.   If we are lousy parents then we don’t.  Again I do not see the link with hegemonic masculinity)

7. A man should never back down in the face of trouble.

( If one interprets back down as being physical it has an aggressive feel.  However, if back down means not dealing or not confronting trouble it is an entirely different interpretation and in my opinion equally unappealing for a man and for a women.)

13. Nobody respects a man very much who frequently talks about his worries, fears, and problems.

(Frequent whining and complaining is equally unattractive regardless of gender and has little to do with masculinity.)

I could analyze a bunch more of the questionnaire items with a similar conclusion that the items are skewed to favor a knee jerk response about masculine stereotypes.  The fact that there are higher scores among conservatives may simply mean that these men have a positive reaction to a more traditional belief system – the definition of a conservative  – rather than a true reflection of masculine behavior.

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.

It's OK to be a man.