Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Does It Mean to "Man Up"?

Yesterday I posted an article from the new issues of Newsweek, which has Man Up! on the cover - Men's Lib - Why it’s time to reimagine masculinity at work and at home and added a little bit of commentary, but not much - yesterday was too busy.

Fortunately for me, someone at Forbes and at Media-ite posted their own commentaries, which make a great deal of sense, in part. Interestingly, both are by women.

From Dr. Lois Frankel at Forbes:

Now, those of us who have been paying any attention at all for the past few years know that savvy men no longer aspire to be the Marlboro Man, but rather someone like Barack Obama or Brad Pitt. In fact, when interviewed on the Today Show by Matt Lauer the authors pointed to both of them as good examples of men who have successfully embraced their roles not only as professionals and husbands, but also as involved fathers and people who want to make a difference in society.

In my book, See Jane Lead, I talk about “the feminization of leadership.” The truth of the matter is, macho men don’t make very effective leaders these days. The latest generation of arrivals in the workplace actually want leaders who are inclusive, listen, reward rather than punish, encourage rather than disparage — who, generally speaking, exhibit more stereotypically feminine characteristics. So, in this regard, rethinking masculinity is a must for survival.

But don’t be fooled. We’re still a society that doesn’t like men who act like women, nor women who act like men, yet there is a double standard. No one seems to be up in arms over suggesting men should embrace their feminine sides, but when I suggest women could be more assertive, direct, and competitive, it is spread across the ethers that I’m suggesting women “grow a pair” (see last week’s post on the Citi fiasco).

Yes there is a bit of a double standard there - and for men it's a double bind. Men are told to be more feminine in some respects, but they have been raised to fear showing feminine traits more than nearly anything else, experiencing it psychological on part with physical castration. They are caught between competing values systems, so they must either pick a side, or simply live with the anxiety of gender role strain.

I know how wrong that feeling is - and if you are reading this, I suspect you do as well. But that is how most men in America have been raised (that seems to be changing in the younger generations coming up now). Most men would rather be struck by lightning than be seen as feminine.

Over at Media-ite, Rachel Sklar deconstructs the argument of the Newsweek authors ("young male writers, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil, both of whom are very good") with the own words. Damn, I hate when that happens.

Here are a few sections of her analysis:

  • Oh, here it is, finally, at the end of the 7th paragraph: “Most guys, in fact, don’t even need rescuing—at least not yet. They’re still overrepresented in business and government, earn more on the dollar, open bigger movies, and clean fewer dishes.” So wait, if “most” men are still “overrepresented” everywhere, how are they “off the rails” and in need of getting “back on track?”
  • I don’t mean to go through this line by line, but that said, the next line is: “But the gender wars aren’t a zero-sum game: when men lose, women and children lose, too.” Very very true. But flip it: When women win, men and children win too. (See this Lancet article about the Millennium Development Goals and the domino effects of potential global gender equity.) Also, if you take that to its logical conclusion, then there’s an implied argument against women taking jobs that were “traditionally” men. I’d just like to see a greater appreciation of context, and some examination of how gender parity in pay, status and opportunity is good for society and family. (I know. I’m such a diva!)
  • Further down, we see this – as a plus, meant to reassure men that even if they do enter sissy professions like nursing and teaching, they’ll rise above: “While women in traditionally male professions suffer predictable forms of discrimination, men in women’s fields actually enjoy “structural advantages” that “tend to enhance their careers”—a kind of glass conveyor belt that carries them into the “more masculine” areas they perceive to be a better fit for their talents, according to a seminal 1992 study. They become gym teachers instead of English teachers; reference librarians instead of children’s librarians; ER nurses instead of pediatric nurses.” Okay (a) Men have it rough whyagain?; and (b) 1992 was the same year that Kriss Kross came out wearing baggy pants. Please update.
  • Seriously, WHY IS THIS AT THE VERY BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE? “[I]f the country achieved gender parity in the workplace—an optimal balance of fully employed men and women—the gross domestic product would grow by as much as 9 percent, according to a recent study by the World Economic Forum.” Honestly, that’s bordering on irresponsible. Return to that first, warning paragraph about how men have declined in the workforce and young women are earning more than their male peers. THAT is where this statistic belongs, right up top alongside them. Not at the very very afterthought-y bottom of the piece.
  • Again, nowhere in the article does the term “gay” or “homosexual” appear. This article conceives of men, maleness, and “the New Macho” as an entirely heterosexual thing. That, too, is wildly irresponsible. My New Macho includes Neil Patrick Harris, thankyouverymuch. And then some.

Despite the snark, she makes good points - the article is more alarmist than a real issue where men are in trouble of becoming obsolete.

On the other hand, men are at a unique moment in our developmental history. The more urban and suburban we are, and the more we live on one coast or the other (as opposed to the Midwest/heartland rural America), the more likely we are to be facing and integrating (hopefully) the shift from hegemonic masculinity to relational masculinity.

Rather than alarmist articles, perhaps we might have a real discussion about men and gender roles - and why it is so hard for so many men to move into a more relational style of being a man, which is simply one of many options available to us.

Most of these articles are partially correct in that men are changing, and that we need to change - life conditions for many of us demand it - but we are not going extinct, we are not obsolete (good luck procreating without at least one of us), and we are not all the same, which may be the most important idea to get out - there are as many masculinities as there are men, as it should be.

No comments: