Monday, September 29, 2014

men don't have it as easy as we women sometimes think

Today, just basically by chance, I came across a few things on the interwebs speaking to the subjects of men, friendship, suicide, and gender expectations. In my previous post I quoted Emma Watson, who spoke recently at the United Nations on the subject of gender. I love what she says at the end of her talk, where she specifies ways that men are harmed by gender norms and expectations, and how that harming harms all of us. Then, just now, I read a blog post on OnBeing, about how difficult it is for most men in western culture to form deep, lasting friendships with other men. She, the author of the post, even connects the scarcity of male friendships with the very high global suicide rate among young men. I'm sure there are many complex reasons for that high suicide rate, and I'm also sure that she's right, that gender demands are very high on the list of those reasons.

If you do read the blog post, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

My other recommended read of the day is an account of a man whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and then as an adult man in his 30s with a family of his own he chose to return to Gaza to live. As far as I can tell, he still lives there.

13 comments:

  1. The following is a quick stream of consciousness diatribe, excuse the occasional orange in the applecart and the typos :-)

    I read the article. I kind of understand where people are coming from when they call for men to be more emotional aware, more sensitive, more open to expressing their feelings, to be basically more like females. But I think this is part of the problem instead of the solution. I think we are seeing the product of this type of reeducation in the young men we see nowadays where they don't really know what a real man looks like, how they are supposed to act, what their friendships are supposed to look like. Historically, men have never been overly expressive about their relationships with other men, rather men have a camaraderie that is typically forged through some kind of common activity or common foe or common needs/want. The relationships are often unspoken yet strong. Stronger, in fact, than female relationships. You want to see historically what men are like with other men, read Homer or the Bible (not the Pauline letters since that's basically one man's journal). I think historically men have expressed themselves emotionally when they are drunk together, and then they move on.

    My father is my role model. He has a couple of close friends with whom he can confide, but they talk maybe once a month. Mostly they talk about superficial things, things that have in common, fishing, golf, food, women, stock market, basically smalltalk, but these are the type of conversations men have, this is how men reaffirm their relationships. Men don't have to tell each other they love each other. Men don't have to tell each other that they will be there if one of them needs the other. It doesn't have to be spelled out. They just know it. I have a couple of friends that if I need something badly, they will help me. But we don't talk about it. I don't know about anybody else, but I remember in high school my girlfriends not knowing where they stood with the other women in their class, and I would hear that they were friends one day and total bitches with each other the other day and somebody else would be their best friend. I never had that kind of instability with my friends. We all knew who was the most popular guy, who was the least popular guy and the pecking order was pretty much established and didn't change much. Male relationships are like that. They are generally more stable, and you tend to forge relationships about activities that you share or ways of looking at the world or sometimes just finding a role within a group like being the brain, or the muscle, or the clown, or the know it all, or the go to guy. Often, it's that simple with male relationships.

    When I say simple, I don't mean it's not complex, I just mean there's a kind of set paradigm for relationships.

    to b con'td

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  2. When I say simple, I don't mean it's not complex, I just mean there's a kind of set paradigm for relationships. And I think this call for males to become more sensitive and caring and expressive erodes this paradigm and men no longer know how to act around other men. I fairly recently started a friendship with this young man (about 15 years younger than I am). We went to a movie together. We talked about the movie afterwards and talked about food and women, but then when he dropped me off at my place, he seems to be quite awkward about saying goodbye, about calling it a night. I got this feeling he wanted more out of the night out as if just hanging out wasn't enough. Maybe it's just me but he was very awkward instead of just being cool. And I thought to myself later that this is what men are like now, these are the men that grow up playing video games in front of the screen (in general, women don't play video games) and don't know how to act around other men, these are the men that grow up watching pornography in front of the screen and don't know how to act around women – that, coupled with the well-meaning telling them they should be more emotional and with a culture that breeds indecisiveness, and no wonder there are so many suicides. It doesn't have anything to do with what you have friends or not, because you grow up in front of the screen and when you walk outside you don't know where the hell you are or how to act. And it's not just the "call of duty" screen or the porn hub.com, it's the sitcoms and romantic comedies telling you that men are idiotic clowns or oafs (sitcoms) or so dense they almost lose the girl that's a keeper, the girl just under their nose (every romantic comedy pretty much). But the article is correct, men are not free, they are not free to be men, they are no longer taught to be stable, confident, dependable decisive strong stoic – no, instead we had idiotic poets telling us we should send our friends love letters LOL. Ridiculous.

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  3. Hey Mark. I'm surprised about your ideas about what makes a "real" man. I guess it's never come up before somehow in all the time we've known each other, but I'm just really surprised that you think these things. I feel sad when I read what you write about your new friend, when you say that there must be something wrong with him because he might have wanted to open up to you in some way. What if he's been feeling depressed, and he wanted to ask your advice? Or what if this new friendship means a lot to him, and he wanted to tell you that? I genuinely do not understand the thinking that would pronounce him less of a man if he had those feelings.

    It seems to me like you're deciding on behalf of all humanity what a True Man looks like, and then any man who does not look like that, you have pronounced ahead of time isn't a true man. So even though I could give you many examples of men--men I personally know, and men throughout history and across cultures--who don't fit the paradigm you're promoting, it seems like you have decided ahead of time that any man who doesn't fit that paradigm isn't a true man. Which seems a lot like circular reasoning to me, and also just seems like a really unfair thing to do to men who are naturally sensitive, or who want to be emotionally open, or who are expressive about their feelings. You've already decided, before you even get to know them, that they are not Real Men. It's hard for me to understand why a world where there is only one right way to be a man, and only one right way to be a woman, is a better world in any way than a world that embraces many different expressions of gender.

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  4. I literally gasped when I read Mark's statement that this perspective that men are stifled from expressing emotion and need to be freed from it (and this article addresses male friendship but the conversation here is about so much more than male friendship) is a desire that men be "more like women."

    I believe that humanist view that to experience emotion is to be human. To experience strong bonds with others is to be human. Various opinions on what constitutes a "real" man exist across cultures and subcultures, to the point where a truly universal definition does not exist. However, it is fairly universal for humans, male and female alike, to have emotions and express those as each culture allows. It's also fairly universal for us to form friendships. How expressive we are varies, and the true point of Emma Watson's speech was how important it is to free men as well as women from rigid prescripted roles or ways of being in the world. The more freely we can tap into who we truly are in an authentic way, the stronger and better we will be. The more connected to our inner selves we are, the healthier we are. And this is better for everyone.

    The article about friendships might be a bit prescriptive in the other direction; I will definitely allow for that. But I think there's something missing when we narrowly define masculinity. I can see in my children a natural tendency to be open and authentic and emotionally expressive, until they go to school. Then they start to pick up on the social constructs for acceptable masculinity and they start disconnecting when there's emotion going on, they start withdrawing or hiding when they do have strong emotions, and they stop being as affectionate.

    There's a continuum of personality types amongst all humans, but as male and female our bell curves overlap. They're not exactly the same. It is as disengenuous to say my 10 year old (who is more of a 'Rambo' type of boy) "should" express more emotion as it is to say my 6 year old (who is very much a "soulful dramatist" type of boy) "shouldn't" express more emotion. We should be free to be who we authentically are.

    I don't mean that as a cop out; not "who we are comfortable being after a lifetime of indoctrination by my culture's rigid stereotypes." But who we are when the stereotypes are stripped away.

    I have to agree with you though, Mark, on the interpersonal disconnect and the engagement with porn and screen time. I would argue that one of the things porn, pop culture, and media tap into are ferociously rigid definitions of masculinity--based on the very paradigm of masculinity that you express is the true one.

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  5. I have to give Mark credit for honesty about the way many men see things, even if I don't completely agree. I've observed a lot in recent years about the deeply entrenched ways that we all allow gender to define us, and how that will probably not be changing any time soon.

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  6. Personally, though, I'm more in line with you on this one, Tamie, and I worry that the type of perspective that Mark puts forth (not an uncommon perspective) can be used to "shut down the conversation" and laugh it out of the room (indeed he ended with lol). So I hope that Mark and others will try to be careful with the power of their words, and try to leave room for their friends and loved ones to be themselves, however manly or not.

    Sorry to beat up on you Mr. Mark. Again I appreciate you chiming in and broadening the conversation.

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  7. Please don't put words into my mouth, Tamie. I never said I was talking for the rest of humanity, that's absurd, and I also never sought to define what a True Man or Real Man is or should be. Those capital letters are yours, not mine.

    "It seems to me like you're deciding on behalf of all humanity what a True Man looks like, and then any man who does not look like that, you have pronounced ahead of time isn't a true man. So even though I could give you many examples of men--men I personally know, and men throughout history and across cultures--who don't fit the paradigm you're promoting, it seems like you have decided ahead of time that any man who doesn't fit that paradigm isn't a true man."

    These sentences make me think you didn't really read what I wrote. Of course there is no True Man, that's ridiculous. NOWHERE do i say any of these things nor am i "promoting" anything, rather I was describing a kind of established parameters of how men deal with each other. It's kind of a loose code.

    I was describing how male relationships work. They are completely different from how female relationships work. I know these differences are inconvenient for some but they exist. In my experience men process their emotions differently, a difference that is reflected and how they establish and maintain friendships.

    And I see nothing wrong with that. Why is this a problem that needs fixing? But that's really what the article is saying. In fact the article goes so far as to state (a statement hidden within a question) if men were more emotionally expressive and vulnerable it would reduce the high suicide rate among young men. Hmm... yeah right.

    My experience also only extends into the Americas, Latin America where I grew up as a kid and North America where I grew up as an adult. I'm sure my experience would be different if I was from India or Saudi Arabia or China. But I dare say men-men relationships and women-women relationships are much different in those cultures as well.

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  8. Suicide is also a phenomenon of old men (particularly in rural settings), and of young women (often attempted though not necessarily completed). It's quite a complicated problem. Would it help for men to be more emotionally forthcoming? One can hope so; it would certainly help with a lot of other social phenomena.

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  9. I'm not sure, but men from the Middle East and from East India are quite emotionally expressive, and although I don't know about their suicide rates, I'm not sure it helps with their propensity for violence.

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  10. Mark, you and I have been friends for about fifteen years, and I have always felt like you treated me with kindness and respect. With your comments in this dialogue, I no longer feel that way. Your comments like, "yeah, right" and "LOL. Ridiculous" come across as sarcastic and dismissive. The tone of your comments make me feel disrespected and dismissed. The content of your comments sounds intolerant and marginalizing to me, and make me feel like you would not listen to or respect the experience of many men within this culture who do not want to express their masculinity in the ways that you are claiming are the only acceptable and legitimate ways. I do not recall you speaking to me this way before, and I do not recall you writing in this way on my blog before, and I do not understand why you are choosing to interact this way now. I have always felt comfortable assuming that the unspoken code in our friendship was one of respect.

    I did not put words in your mouth. I reflected back to you what I heard you saying. Your comments are in fact prescriptive and globalizing. You write, "I think we are seeing the product of this type of reeducation in the young men we see nowadays where they don't really know what a real man looks like, how they are supposed to act, what their friendships are supposed to look like. Historically, men have never been overly expressive about their relationships with other men, rather men have a camaraderie that is typically forged through some kind of common activity or common foe or common needs/want." In other words, according to you there is one particular way to be a "real man," there is one particular correct paradigm for male friendships and actions. You say that "Historically, men have never..." which is a statement that generalizes about all men. I do not read in anything you said in those first two comments any kind of space for, or tolerance of, difference. You explicitly state that if men do not act in the way that "real men" act (real men, according to you, and according to the dominant patriarchal paradigm) then they are, by definition, not real men. Reflecting back to you what you have said is not putting words in your mouth.

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  11. It is no doubt true that the male code you write about does exist. I grew up within male fishing culture, and I know intimately well the code of which you speak. I experienced it from when I was a tiny girl, up to the present. I also know that in every engagement I have had with that code and that culture, I have experienced sexism, oppressive attitudes and actions towards women, violence towards women, violence in general, and an assumption that one of the basic ways men bond is by sexualizing women. Even men who themselves did not engage in sexualizing women turned a blind eye to the ones who did.

    But even if none of this were the case, even if sexism was not inherent in the paradigm you are describing, even if women were consistently treated with respect by such men, the problem with the male code you are describing is that it has no space for men who want to live by some other code, just as your comments allow no room or tolerance for men who live in our culture and want to be expressive, or want to exhibit "feminine" traits, or want to cry or hug, or who are depressed and therefore "weak." Little boys who want to play with dolls, or teenage boys who are sensitive, or adult men who are expressive of their feelings, are belittled, taunted, harmed, punished, mocked, marginalized, and otherwise given the message very loud and very clear that their personalities are invalid and worthless. The paradigm you are putting forward, which is an utterly prescriptive paradigm, has been harmful to so many people for so long. It would be one thing if you said that you personally preferred to have certain kinds of male friends who are along the lines you have described, but that you allowed space for other men to feel and express and experience differently. But that is not what you have said at all.

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  12. It's true that some of my comments had been dismissive and sarcastic. I sincerely apologize. I think it's a reflection of my current state of mind and some of the stuff going on in my life, and I have no right to take it out on you or anyone else so I'm sorry.

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  13. Mark, I'm so sorry to hear that there are some hard things going on in your life. I wish I'd known. I'm sending you love and I hope we can talk soon privately (i.e., in some other space than this public blog).

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