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.


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.


A recent cover story in Time Magazine highlighted the emerging issues of how young adults, in particular,  see their gender identity.  Facebook now has about 60 options for users’ gender.   A bill introduced in California would add a third gender option on identification documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates: male, female or nonbinary.  A survey commissioned by an LGBTQ advocacy organization found that 20% of millennials identify as something other than strictly straight and cisgender compared with 7% of boomers.    The article included a number of interviews with millennials who relayed their stories about being gender fluid and not wanting to be labeled male or female.

Disclaimer: I understand that gender identity is an issue for both men and women but since this blog is about men’s issues I will only address the male perspective.

From my point of view there are two gender categories – male & female based solely on anatomy.  The only exception would be for the very few individuals who are born with clear hermaphroditic abnormalities.   If we take sexual orientation into account there are still two gender categories with the sub groups being straight, gay or bisexual.   However, based on the data in the Time article a fair number of individuals are not comfortable with choosing either male or female as their gender even with the qualification of sexual orientation.

What I am trying to understand is why someone born with a penis and an intact Y chromosome has a problem calling himself a man?  He can be straight, gay or bisexual and still be a man.  If he wants to wear dresses and makeup but not willing to undergo sex change surgery he is still a man who likes to dress up as woman.

My take is that there is an aversion to the stereotypes of masculinity that is causing gender confusion among young adult men.   Apparently, a number of men believe that because they do not enjoy sports, do not drool over tools, do not care to fish or hunt and often cry at the movies they are not really men and must seek an alternative to checking the male box on an information form.  It is a problem because it just adds one more hurdle for a young man who is trying to come to understand who he is.  Psychologists label this process as adult ideation which is a characteristic of adolescence.  Gender identity forms an important part of identity as it dictates to a significant degree how one views oneself both as a person and in relation to other people, ideas and nature.  The more identity labels young people are offered the more bewildering the process of understanding oneself becomes.  Compounding the issue are the meanings, often exaggerations, that are attributed to each label.   It is hard enough for the typical high school male to choose among the many common adolescent labels – jock, nerd, preppie, goth, hippie, etc.  Adding what is my gender to the identity game just makes accepting oneself as an adult that much more difficult.  The negative impact of not knowing oneself has done more harm for young men than women.  In previous posts I have shared data that points to the fact that many young men are not achieving their potential as illustrated by the alarming number of males who drop out of high school, do not enter or complete college, commit crimes and less severely seem to drift through life with stunted ambitions.

Putting the male gender confusion issue in the context of defining masculinity it seems that if a man can shed the artificial attributes of masculinity and come to understand that masculinity is more than those attributes.  A man  would be more comfortable in calling himself a man and appreciate that the best of masculinity- a topic that is infused in many of my previous blog posts – has little to do with the stereotypes and can empower him to a more fulfilling life.

Moonlight and Masculinity

Just saw Moonlight the critically acclaimed  Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winning film.  I don’t intend to be a plot spoiler or movie critic but to look at the characters from a masculinity perspective.  After the movie I read many of the highly rated critic reviews and was struck by the frequently mentioned comments about how the movie’s sub text dealt with the broader theme of masculinity . It does, but only in the shadow or negative aspects of masculinity and in some sense excuses the worst of a man’s behavior by attributing it to racism and poverty.

The story begins with a boy, referred to as Little, being raised by a single mom in a Miami ghetto who also happens to be a crack addict and sometime prostitute.  No father is mentioned and it appears that the mother has no idea which of her many “boyfriends” fathered the child.  Little is portrayed as soft, shy and sad.  The story line seems to attribute these characteristics to sexual ambiguity rather than the absence of a father or positive male influence.  Instead of a dad Little winds up being mentored by Juan a local drug dealer.  Wonderful role model –  diamond studded ear bling, a tricked out car and a reputation as a hard guy who also happens to sell drugs to the boy’s mother.   Unfortunately Juan is portrayed as a mostly positive influence for the boy.

A rather disingenuous snippet of dialogue  occurs when Little, who was bullied and called a faggot in school, asks Juan about what faggot means.  Juan responds with an explanation that this is a term to put down gay people and is unacceptable.   On the surface this would appear as a constructive intervention by Juan.  However, I seriously doubt that, the hard core inner city African – American drug dealer would  offer such an enlightened view of accepting homosexuality.

The next segment of the movie shows the boy, now referred to by his given name Chiron,  as a teenager attending high school.  He remains shy, physically vulnerable and a victim of bullying.  Again another aspect  of masculinity is on display as we see Chiron beaten by Kevin.  Kevin is a childhood friend who is told to beat on Chiron or he himself will become the victim of  the gang.    This is the same friend, who without explaining the coincidence, he previously met one night on a deserted  beach where they engaged in a homosexual encounter.

The last segment portrays the main character now an adult presumably in his late 20’s, referred to as Black, released from prison and who has become an imposing physical specimen living in Atlanta and selling drugs much like his early childhood mentor.  He also drives a tricked out car and prominently displays a gold grill.  On a whim Black returns to Miami and meets up with his old friend Kevin.  Kevin also did jail time and is a divorced father.   The movie ends with an intimate scene between Kevin and Black.

The bottom line is that none of the characters in any fashion exemplify anything close to the best of masculinity.   Juan makes his way in the world by dealing drugs.  Adolescent boys are portrayed as thugs and bullies.   Kevin, the main character’s friend and eventual lover, has served jail time and is divorced and separated from his own son.  The protagonist now a grown man emerges as an ex-convict drug dealer just like his childhood mentor.   A bleak picture of masculinity that reflects the reality for many of our youth who grow up un-fathered and marginalized by poverty and failed institutions.   A contrasting story was told in the 1991 film “Boyz in the hood.”  In that film the realities of poverty, racism  and adolescent violence was not sugar coated.  However, the fact that the main character had an involved father paved the way for the boy to choose a positive path.  We need more examples in popular media about how characters representing the best of masculinity can benefit our youth.