Saturday, May 11, 2019

The rebirth of masculinity?

I see articles about the need for men to reclaim masculinity, with the goal being to push back the harm that decades of male-bashing has caused.

This is good, but I’m not sure which masculinity they want to reclaim. I grew up before masculinity was being attacked, and I was taught in a traditional way what men are supposed to be. And then when the male-bashing started most men stood by and did nothing. Or they joined in and started bashing men too.

This was not aberrant behavior on the part of men. This was masculinity in action. It was the same masculinity as men freezing to death in the water while they made sure women were comfortable in the life boats. It was the same masculinity as men beating up other men because a woman called for help and said “he hurt me.” It was the same masculinity telling men to just buck up and “take it like a man.” And it was this same masculinity that guided men when male-bashing showed up in the form of women’s calls for help.

In other words, it was not a lack of masculinity that allowed this to happen. It was men’s blind adherence to outdated codes of masculine chivalry and stoicism. And I’m not suggesting we toss masculinity into the trash. Masculinity is a constructive force that has solved many problems and saved many lives. But we need to get better at saving ourselves, even when it feels like a cowardly thing to do.

This is not going to be easy because our masculinity only provides some of the tools. We need to also dig into our sense of humanity and realize that we deserve to be treated with compassion. And we need to trust that feeling this way does not mean we are weak.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sexist equality

Traditionally, men were portrayed as people who affect their surroundings and make their own choices. Women were portrayed as people who lean more toward just going along with things. This double standard has been transferred over to the way society evaluates issues of gender equality. 

For example, the issue of men having shorter life spans. The common response is to blame men. “They are abusing their own health.” The responder doesn’t speculate on how much protection men are given to prevent their deaths, whether the culture channels men into the more dangerous jobs, or even whether men are taught their bodies are worth caring for.

This is very unfortunate because males are no less socialized than females. They are not even made aware of how gender-based issues hurt them. And efforts to teach them are usually attacked. Yet none of this seems to matter. Men are expected to transform themselves and mitigate all the pressures that surround them. And this expectation is no different from traditional sexism.

So what I often see is a traditional double standard used to define nonsexism. And this gets us nowhere. It shuts down discussion. It kills compassion. And regardless of the intent when this happens, the result is the same.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The other side of the income gap

A large company I worked at for many years was making a big effort to have women take promotions, including giving them an advantage over men.  Many women took advantage of this, but many did not. I spoke with one of the analysts who was tracking the reasons women gave for not promoting. The analyst told me that most women said they were happy where they were, they didn’t want the extra stress, and/or it was up to their husbands to make more money.

This was consistent with what I had heard from female co-workers over the years. There were many times I would hear women complain about how they needed more money, but their "lazy” husbands would not get better jobs. Every time I heard this I suggested that she promote, and I reminded her that our employer was bending over backward to help women get promotions. And in every case, the conversation went something like what follows:

Me: Why don’t you promote?
She: I don’t want to promote. I like my job. I’m happy where I am.
Me: Maybe your husband is happy where he is.
She: But he should want to promote. He should take pride in promoting because it’s part of his self-esteem.
Me: Promoting could increase your pride as well, and help your self-esteem.
She: My self-esteem comes from taking care of myself. I care about my health and don’t want to shorten my life with a stressful job.
Me: Maybe your husband wants to avoid stress too. Maybe he cares about his health just as much as you care for yours.
She: But he should be able to handle the stress. He should want to take on the challenge.
Me: From what you told me your husband is resisting your pressure to promote. That should tell you something about his wishes.

After this the conversation usually just went into a circle, with her main points being that she doesn’t want to promote, she doesn’t have to promote, but her husband is obligated to promote. One woman even bragged that she was going to make her husband’s life miserable until he promoted. When I pointed out that it’s not nice to make a loved one's life miserable, she said it was for his own good. But from where I was sitting, it seemed like it was more for her own good. She was the one who wanted more money, and she would reap the benefit of a higher shared income while he took on the added stress.

And this is a point that rarely gets discussed. With shared income, every time the husband's paycheck increases the wife's income increases as well. They both have more money available to spend. They both have access to the same shared income.

This should also be true when the wife's paycheck increases, but from what many women have told me, this is not the case. Many women are of the belief that "her paycheck is her money, while his paycheck is their money." In other words, his paycheck is family money to be shared by both of them. But her income belongs to her, and she decides when to share it. Under these circumstances, her income is actually greater than his, even if her paycheck is smaller.

To illustrate this, let's say the husband's paycheck is $50,000 a year, while the wife's paycheck is $40,000. His paycheck is shared, resulting in all $50,000 going to joint income. But her paycheck is not completely shared. So let's say she contributes $30,000 into the family fund, raising it to $80,000. The result is that each gets $40,000 (half of $80,000) from the community fund. But she also gets an additional $10,000 from the part of her paycheck that she declines to share. The result is her overall income is $55,000, while his income is only $45,000. In other words, even though her paycheck is lower, her actual income is higher.

His paycheck = $50,000. Her paycheck = $40,000

                                 Joint Fund   His Share   Her Share
His contribution         $50,000     $25,000     $25,000   
Her contribution        $30,000     $15,000     $15,000
Her paycheck not shared                                $10,000
Total Income                                  $45,000     $55,000           

Of course, the money is not divided perfectly in half, with each taking a handful of money. Couples don't spend money that way. But that doesn't change the fact that shared income is a reality, and that greater pressure on men to be a money provider leads to higher income for women. Yet this is not reflected when statistics about relative incomes are presented.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sex, alcohol, and consent

Two college students are at a party. Both are drinking alcohol. They start flirting. Then they start kissing. And they end up having sex in which both willingly participate.

In this situation, both had diminished capacity and both consented. So how do we decide whether a sex infraction was committed. It's simple. They just blame the male. The fact that he is in the same situation as the female doesn't matter. He will be accused of a sexual infraction. She will not.

This is clearly sexist. And it's also very traditional sexism. With traditional sexism, the man was supposed to take control of important decisions that affect both. And along with this he got the credit or the blame, depending on how things worked out. But if he didn't take charge, then he was held accountable for not acting as guardian for the decisions of both. That's what is happening here.

What's interesting today is this kind of double-standard is being promoted as equality, even though it actually promotes sexism. It promotes the idea that women are inferior to men at making decisions under the same challenging circumstances. It makes men responsible for women's choices. This is not equality.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Beginning several decades ago, there was a lot of talk about sexism and sex roles. And a lot of talk about how men need to be more nurturing. People said men were so busy solving problems they overlooked the feeling component of human interaction.

This was all being said by people who insisted that it's wrong to promote sexist stereotypes. But that's exactly what they were doing. They were repeating traditional sexist rhetoric instead of examining whether the male role actually nurtures. And because of this, they overlooked the fact that the traditional male role utilizes problem solving to nurture others.

Consider the following:
Many years ago I got a panicked call from a friend. She had just found a new job, but her car had broken down. And without the car, she had no job. So I drove over to see if I could get her car running. I knew nothing about auto repair, but hoped to spot something obvious.

When I popped the hood open I saw no obvious problem. So I telephoned some friends for advice. One of them walked me through basic troubleshooting over the phone. It was not easy, and it took several calls and a trip to the auto parts store. But I found the problem and fixed it.

Nobody would call my action one of nurturing feelings. They would say that all I did was fix her car. But you should have heard the panic in her voice when she called me. And then seen the look on her face when the car was fixed. Her state of mind had gone from fear to elation. In other words, I had affected her feelings. And that was why I went there: to support a friend. I didn't go there to hang out with her car.

Now, while I was there she made me a sandwich. This is generally considered a nurturing act. But it is really no more supportive than my driving over and helping her. Fixing her car transformed her emotions. The effect of the sandwich was less than that. But stereotyping overlooks this.

The above is only one example, and an isolated one at that. But for centuries, men have used problem solving to provide food and shelter for their families. These actions increase the feeling of safety, security, and well-being in others. They are very foundational acts of caring and nurturing, despite what people say.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Subservience and men's issues

It is often said that the traditional role for women was subservience to men. Having grown up before the 1970s, I could see this as part of the dynamic. But what never gets discussed is the part where males were taught subservience to women. It just wasn't called "subservience." It was called "chivalry," "being a gentleman," or "male responsibility."  But the process of subservience was still there. Men were socialized to defer to women, treat women as if they were in a higher station in life, and sacrifice on behalf of women.

Here are some examples of how I was supposed to defer to women. Whenever a woman entered a room, I was supposed to stand in her honor, and remain standing until she was seated. This is how royalty is treated. Also, when passing through a doorway, I was supposed to always let the woman pass first, and hold the door for her, just as a servant would for a master. If I saw a woman drop something, I was to rush over and help her pick it up. If a woman arrived at a service counter right after I did, I was to step aside and let her go first. In fact, when out and about in public, I owed subservience to every woman, whether I knew her or not. The general guideline for this was sometimes called "ladies first." This guideline included many areas where men were required to defer their own needs on behalf of the safety, comfort, and convenience of women.

Some people claim that the only reason men did things like open doors is because they thought women were not capable of opening doors. This is a complete fabrication. When a man saw a woman open a door by herself, he didn't assume there was an invisible man there opening the door for her. He realized she was opening the door. And to claim he didn't realize this is absurd.

Men were also expected to show specific areas of subservient behavior in the work place. Any time there was dangerous work, women could ask men to do this for them. And men were expected to respond willingly and cheerfully. And even do it without being asked. This included risky things like climbing tall ladders, working around caustic materials, or working with dangerous machinery. In general, anything that risked death or severe physical injury automatically became a service area that men were supposed to perform for female coworkers. And this was actually an extension of all areas of life. In other words, in all areas of life, I was supposed to risk death or injury on behalf of women, whether I knew them or not.

The above only scratches the surface. And I have not even touched on mandated sex roles in dating and marriage. But I think there is enough here to illustrate my point. Subservience did not flow only one way. It was something required of both sexes.

When I was growing up, inter-gender subservience was not said to be a bad thing. It was taught as a way for both sexes to support and serve each other. It was taught as a form of consideration. And there are still people who feel this way. The problem I see is that gender-specific role mandates are inflexible and do not allow consideration to flow either way in any given situation. So this is not really mutual consideration.

It is also a problem when gender-specific subservience is taught to flow only one way, as we so often see today. For example, women being praised when they refuse to defer in traditional ways, while men who refuse are called selfish, disrespectful, or whiners. These attacks are consistent with traditional shaming tactics used to reinforced sex role socialization in men. So even in "equality," men are still pressured to continue in traditional subservient ways.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The smaller population

Consider the following scenario: a female war veteran pays a visit to a Veterans Administration health clinic. She has been suffering with bad cold symptoms and they won't go away. The doctor recognizes her illness as something that can be treated with a specific antibiotic. The doctor has already used this same antibiotic with great success on many other patients. What should the doctor do?

1. Offer the antibiotic to the woman?

2. Refuse to help the woman, stating that there are more male veterans, and so all the clinic's attention should go there?

3.  Take out a bottle of the antibiotics, remove one pill, and cut a sliver from it. Offer the sliver to the woman and tell her it represents the percentage of women in the military?

The choice seems pretty simple to me. Choice number 1 is the correct choice. Numbers 2 and 3 are sexist and cruel. And the justifications in 2 and 3 make zero sense because she is actually a member of the same population as the male veterans. It's the population called "veterans."

For what it's worth, I've yet to meet someone who disagrees with me. But here's the interesting thing. If men are perceived as the smaller group in a service population, most people tell me it's okay to deny services. Or they say it's acceptable to give men substandard care.

Take for example male victims of spouse violence. There is difference of opinion on whether male victims are a smaller population, but most people assume they are. And this is a common excuse used to deny all services, or approve only a sliver of care.

This is only one example. Only one analogy. But there are more. Just notice what goes on around you. See if anybody around you thinks it's acceptable for services to exclude women, or treat women with substandard care. Compare this to the number of people who make excuses when men are treated this way.