Ten Things Every Man Should Know by 30

A Happy May Day to all.

My column this week at Role/Reboot: Ten Things Every Man Should Know or Do by 30. Excerpt:

6. Don’t take women’s mistrust personally. By this age, you should stop saying inane things like “trust me” or “I’m not like the other guys.” Women aren’t mind-readers and in a world with as much sexualized violence as our own, we are guilty until proven innocent. Stop complaining and start taking steps to make yourself a safe ally and friend.

7. Decide how you feel about children. No, that doesn’t mean you have to have kids by the time you’re 30. But you don’t have forever, bub; men have biological clocks too. “I’ll think about that later” is a great thing for an 18-year-old to say. At 30, given what your female peers are experiencing and you yourself will soon go through, it’s time to make a decision about what you really want and start to act accordingly. If you never want kids, that’s great too—the point is, it’s time to start deciding.

8. Be able to prioritize. Put your wife or girlfriend first. Put your kids (if you have them) second. Put your family (yes, that includes your mother) third and your career fourth. Yeats wrote: “the intellect of man is forced to choose
 perfection of the life, or of the work.” His poem leaves no doubt that choosing the latter is a recipe for misery.

The whole thing here.

Why Male Privilege Doesn’t Feel Good

One of the biggest mistakes men make is assuming that their unhappiness is proof that there’s no such thing as male privilege.*

I am intensely interested in the ways in which men position themselves as victims. I spend a lot of time reading the literature of many “men’s rights” and “fathers’ rights” groups. I spend a lot of time in conversation with men who are going through divorce (I am, if nothing else, an expert on starting over.) And I mentor a lot of young male students and boys from my youth group at church. And in conversations with many of these boys and men, I hear “narratives of helplessness” emerging.

From the older, angrier voices of the so-called MRAs, the narrative describes a world in which women (and their male “collaborators”) have usurped traditional male privileges for themselves. Men are at a disadvantage in the courts, in the business world, in academia. The MRAs see public space in the Western world as increasingly feminized, and they fancy “real men” (in whose ranks they invariably include themselves) to be under attack from a dark coalition of feminist activists, cowardly politicians cravenly surrendering to the cultural left, and a media that never misses an opportunity to demean and belittle traditional men. It all provides a satisfying sense of being “under attack”, which is why many — not all — men’s rights activists use, absurdly enough, the language of oppression and resistance to describe their movement.

There’s not much point in telling these men, “you know, you’re an oppressor more than you are oppressed”. The “you’ve sinned more than you’ve been sinned against” trope doesn’t go over well!. These men feel victimized, they feel exploited, they feel ignored, they feel – often — impotent. And too often, our feelings become facts. Too often, we conveniently ignore the ways in which we played the part of volunteers, not victims. Too often, we deny our own complicity in our own misery. Continue reading

Kinder, Gentler, and Less Likely to Become Teen Dads: Today’s Adolescent Guys and the Birth Rate

My Genderal Interest column at Jezebel this week: Is the Teen Birth Rate Dropping Because Boys are More Romantic? Excerpt:

…in terms of their emotional dexterity, boys today are “more like girls” than ever before. Perhaps that’s because girls today are more like boys. In the past 25 years, girls have made undeniable progress educationally, athletically, financially –- and sexually. That success has often come with a heavy dose of anxiety-ridden perfectionism. Teen girls’ agency is easily oversold; many adults (not to mention adolescents) have a hard time distinguishing a performed sexiness from authentic sexual desire. But this progress isn’t illusory either; young women seem better equipped to name what they want than were their counterparts 25 years ago. As more and more girls have at least begun to escape the straitjacket of classic feminine expectations, they’ve given permission to their brothers to start to do the same. The end result is that in terms of what they want from sex, boys and girls may be more alike than ever before.

As Michael Kimmel, C.J. Pascoe, and other sociologists of masculinity have shown, traditional adolescent male heterosexual behavior has been driven as much by the desire to win approval from other men as by biological lust itself. Having sex with girls (preferably lots of girls) is a way of establishing masculine bona fides. Some of that is tied up neatly with homophobia; the more sex a young man has with women, the less likely he’ll be slapped with the “faggot” label. Yet recent research has shown that just within the past decade, boys have become much less homophobic. As fear of being labeled “gay” decreases, guys may well feel less pressure to have sex to prove their heterosexuality. The fact that guys are waiting longer to have heterosexual intercourse -– and are more likely to use contraception when they do finally have it — may owe as much to their own changing definitions of manhood as it does to fear or the economy. That’s a good thing.

Scared White Men: Fragile Masculinity and the Death of Trayvon Martin

My latest at Role/Reboot looks at the long history of fearful white masculinity, and the role it may have played in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Excerpt:

Whatever happened on February 26, we can say with certainty that Zimmerman’s account follows a classic American narrative. A white male agent of the law confronts a black man; black man becomes violent, white man is “forced” to use deadly force to save his own life. The story plays on the classic racist assumption that black men are always physically stronger than whites. Because of that supposed physical superiority, the gun becomes “regrettably necessary” as a great equalizer. Too few white people question the familiar reasoning.

As Prof. David J. Leonard points out in a brilliant essay, millions of Americans learned the names of two black men this month: Joseph Kony and Trayvon Martin. Both became famous because white men labeled them as evils from which the world needed saving. The parallel goes further. Jason Russell, the head of the Invisible Children charity that started the viral Kony2012 campaign, and George Zimmerman each played essentially the same part: that of white male savior, protecting Ugandan children and Florida suburbanites from the real or imagined dangers presented by two black men.

While Russell had a bizarre (and notably sexualized) fall from grace last week, Zimmerman remains free. The black men they demonized have had different fates as well; while Kony survives somewhere in central Africa, Martin has been buried by his grieving family. Whether Trayvon’s family finds justice depends on whether prosecutors in Florida can find a lens other than that of anxious white masculinity through which to look. If history is any guide, we have little reason to believe that they will.

A weakening of the sexual double standard? On straight men and slutshaming

Tracy Clark-Flory, who writes so ably about sex and relationships for Salon, has a post up tonight that asks a simple question: can a man be slut-shamed?

Tracy interviewed me and Jaclyn Friedman for the piece, an interesting juxtaposition given recent events in the feminist blogosphere. Had I known what he’s been up to, I would have suggested Tracy also talk to Michael Flood, the great Antipodean pro-feminist who left a nice comment on my Facebook page this evening and shared publicly the abstract of a forthcoming article on Australian men and slutshaming. Here it is, with bold emphasis mine:

Abstract: Sexual and gender relations are in a state of flux in Australia, with both growing gender equality and persistent inequalities, the pornographication of popular culture, and increasing assertions of female sexual agency (Flood 2008). The sexual double standard – the differential judgement and treatment of women’s and men’s sexual behaviour – and the policing of female sexual reputation long have been features of the sexual landscape. However, there is some evidence that these formations are shifting. While “slut” and related terms remain powerful disciplinary mechanisms for regulating women’s sexual behaviour, particularly among young women, such terms also are being subverted and reclaimed. This paper reports on the emergence of a new term in heterosexual sexual relations, the “male slut”. In qualitative interviews in Australia, some young men express a desire to avoid this version of male sexual reputation, one earned through excessive or inappropriate sexual activity. The term “male slut” signals a slight weakening of the sexual double standard and an increased policing of male sexual behaviour.

What Michael’s seeing in Australia I’m also seeing here in Los Angeles, as the cultural tide may be beginning to turn against a cavalier acceptance of male promiscuity. It would be absolutely wrong to claim that we’ve achieved “reputational parity”, where slut-shaming functions in equivalent ways for both men and women. But we’re closer than we were, both because of the acceptance of what Flood calls “increasing assertions of female sexual agency” and an evolving understanding among young guys that there’s more to being a man than sleeping with as many women as possible.

I’m eager to see Michael’s article when it appears. In the meantime, do read Tracy’s.

The Masculinity Crisis and the Gender Gap: Why White Men Vote Republican

My latest at Role/Reboot revisits a ninety year-old story: The Roots of the Modern Gender Gap.

Excerpt:

Conservative Republican appeals to men are filled with nostalgia for an era when women could not afford to be as choosy as they seem to be today. The historian-turned-gadfly-candidate Newt Gingrich rarely misses an opportunity to point out that, since the 1960s, liberals have carefully substituted the state for the husband in the lives of American women. Strong public institutions (as well as contraception and access to abortion) reduced women’s dependency on men. As women gained greater autonomy, they no longer felt as compelled to settle for unhappy or abusive marriages. In the traditionalist imagination, this liberation led to abortion, divorce, and promiscuity.

The end result of women’s emancipation has been, as conservatives like Charles Murray and Mary Eberstadt have argued, the psychological dislocation of American men. Raised to be “good providers,” young men cannot possibly compete with a “Leviathan” state that provides far more to women and children. The much-exaggerated contemporary masculinity crisis is the inevitable consequence of robbing men of their natural and primary source of self-esteem, the ability to provide for their families.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that more men than women vote Republican in this country for this very reason. Whether they are able to articulate it or not, I suspect a great many men sense that the weaker the state, the more dependent women become upon them. The fewer publicly-provided alternatives to getting married exist, the more likely women are to put up with unhappy marriages, and the less likely they are to have any heft with which to demand that men make necessary changes. The stronger the social safety net, the more options women have for raising children without men; those women who do choose to raise children with men will do so by choice rather than necessity. And when you have a choice, you can begin to demand a degree of mutuality and accountability from a partner that you could not otherwise demand. No wonder so many angry men vote Republican, and sing the praises of the “free enterprise” system. No wonder so many more women vote Democratic, or failing that, for the least reactionary Republican available.

Read the whole thing.

Men, Rape, Vulnerability, and the New FBI Definition

I have a new piece up at Role/Reboot this morning: Erections Aren’t Consent: What the New FBI Definitions Might Tell Us About Male Victims of Rape. Excerpt:

Without getting mired in the tiresome debates over statistics, it’s safe to conclude three things from the recent data and the changed FBI definition. First, men make up a heavy preponderance of those who commit rape, though a significant minority of women does commit acts of sexualized violence. Second, women are statistically at much greater risk of rape than are men. Three, acknowledging these first two truths doesn’t diminish the reality that more men and boys than we realized are victims of rape and sexual violence. We need to avoid the twin errors of claiming false equivalence on the one hand, or denying the reality of male vulnerability altogether on the other.

Ejaculation is not evidence of enthusiasm. Orgasms (both male and female) can be coerced. Those are truths that bear repeating. They are worth remembering not because we’re witnessing an epidemic of female-on-male sexual assault. They’re worth remembering not only for the sake of preventing the rare but real incidences of female on male rape, but for teaching all of us— especially men—that a partner’s physical arousal is not a sexual blank check.

I still hear the witticism that “a hard dick has no conscience.” This belief that men “think with their dicks” serves to make men (like Ian) vulnerable to sexual assault, just as it serves to excuse away the rapes that aroused men commit. For the sake of the small but suffering number of male victims—and for the far greater number of women who are the victims of men—we need to shatter this pernicious myth about the male body. Men are not so tough that they can never be sexually assaulted by women. And by the exact same token, they are not so vulnerable to lust that rape becomes physiologically inevitable.

Men, we need to acknowledge, are both much stronger and much more fragile than most of us were raised to believe.

Lust doesn’t cancel out empathy: thoughts on an all-male sexuality workshop

This post originally appeared in September 2009

I’m heading back to New York City after a couple of days in Providence. The weather, so humid yesterday, has turned wonderfully brisk and autumnal. I think of my native state, sweltering and drought-ridden and smoke-filled, and feel — almost — guilty that I’m not there with the millions of other suffering Californians. Home on Tuesday.

Brown University’s first annual “Consent Day” was a great success, not least because of the immensely popular t-shirts (a photo here) designed by Catherine McCarthy, the student who led the organizing team for the event and who first contacted me about coming to speak. The front of the shirt is visible in the photo, the reverse includes the reminder “Consent is active, enthusiastic, and freely given.”

I gave a workshop entitled “Sex, Consent, Enthusiasm, and Stoplights: Rethinking the Language of Yes and No.” The basic thesis is familiar from this post, but I also touched on the “all men are dogs” (myth of male weakness) ethos which undergirds so much of the way we socialize modern males (and socialize women to think about them). I also brought in what my women’s studies students know as the “upside-down triangle”, which I wrote about in this post.

There was some good give and take, and some very thoughtful questions from a mixed audience of Brown students.

In the second part of the workshop, we held a male-only discussion group. It is, of course, important to do anti-rape work with both men and women. When doing survivors workshops, it’s obviously beneficial to have women-only spaces. (And yes, men can also be survivors of sexual assault, though usually at the hands of other men rather than women — which may make all-male space more problematic, but that’s another topic for ‘nother post.) But in dealing with issues around sexual consent, the topic on yesterday’s table, single-sex space can also offer an opportunity for a higher degree of safety. And I was eager to meet with at least a few of the young men who had been through the workshop to hear their thoughts and feelings.

As our hour together Thursday evening bore out, many young men (certainly all of those who, gay and straight alike, participated in our closed discussion) are frustrated by the absence of a discourse of healthy male sexuality. This was a self-selecting group; these were guys who had volunteered to participate in Consent Day activities and who identified themselves as sympathetic to feminist goals. Several were already involved in peer counseling or in campus progressive politics. They were energized and excited by the discussion about enthusiasm and consent; there were no rape apologists to be found. But the real hunger that many of them articulated very well (not surprising for Brown University students) was a hunger for some kind of validation of their sexuality as good, healthy, okay.

“I know all the things not to do”, one guy said; “I work really hard at being a good ally. But I sometimes feel that in order to be a good ally, I have to pretend that I’m asexual; my fear is that women won’t trust me as a friend if I show any sign of sexual desire.” This lad hastened to add that he wasn’t sexually interested in most of his female friends; what he’d like to be able to do is talk about his sexual feelings (as some of those friends talk with him about theirs) without losing their trust. Several of the other men in the room nodded in agreement. We talked at length about the familiar but still-powerful compartmentalization phenomenon, one in which “good guys”, those who strive to do justice with their lives and with their bodies, live a separate, secretive sexual life (usually involving pornography) that seems, at least to the guys themselves, to be something profoundly shameful.

Timothy Beneke’s Men on Rape is now out of print, but one of the many memorable lines within that invaluable text is this: “I’m not aware of any common English phrases that allow one to express sexual desire in a way that acknowledges both lust and humanity.” Beneke captured a truth about our idiom, but he also captured a truth about the way in which we see male sexuality in our culture. For a host of excellent reasons, rooted in countless painful anecdotes and our own collective witness, many of us — perhaps most of us — have a difficult time believing that heterosexual desire doesn’t invariably compromise a man’s capacity for empathy. We men can’t want sex, our culture tells us, and while still seeing the people we want to have sex with as they really are. “A hard dick has no conscience”, we say with resignation or cynical bravado. But as is so often the case, our language in this instance doesn’t so much reflect an immutable reality as it creates and maintains a distorted understanding of our nature and our potential. Continue reading

Virtual Models and the Tired Trope of the War Against Men

Two more pieces up today.

At GMP, I respond to Tom Matlack and to this Meghan Casserly piece in Forbes. See It’s Not the End of Men, and We Still Have Work to Do. Excerpt:

As reported this week, men with children are doing more housework than ever before. We’re up to spending 80% as much time as women do on chores. That’s an undeniable improvement over where we were a few short decades ago. But again, a trend in the right direction doesn’t mean the problem of inequality has been licked. And as that same study found, women are doing much more than those statistics suggest, largely because women spend much more time than men multi-tasking. The fact that we’re doing more than ever before doesn’t change the reality that we’re still not pulling our weight.

There’s a long tradition in men’s writing (see Freud, Sigmund) of complaining that women’s demands are excessive and irrational. The modern iteration of that tactic is to point out how hard men are trying. What more could women possibly want? Don’t women have more opportunities than ever before? Aren’t men doing more domestic chores and showing more affection than their fathers’ generation ever did? Why isn’t that enough? When are these shrews going to give us a break, give us a cookie, and let “good enough” be sufficient?

Individual men are not called to be martyrs. (I don’t know any women who expect them to be.) But we can do better than point endlessly to all the things we’ve done right, as if they constitute a credit balance sufficient to discharge the debts from all the places where we continue to fall short. And make no mistake, we are still falling short. That men are up to doing 80% of the work—and that women are up to earning 80 cents on our dollar—indicates progress. But to use a football analogy, it’s still the third quarter and though we’re catching up, we need another couple of touchdowns to win the game. And some men sound like they’re ready to hit the showers.

At Healthy is the New Skinny, my column looks at the H&M virtual models controversy. See All Women are Real…Unless They’re Digitally Generated. Excerpt:

But models are more than just walking and talking mannequins. For all the real problems in the beauty industry, there’s a growing awareness of the tremendous potential that real (as in human) models across the size spectrum have to inspire us to think differently about our bodies. More and more current and former models – including so many of our HNS ambassadors are speaking out in favor of a healthier approach to fashion. We’re seeing a new generation of models emerge who are genuine role models, willing to share their joys and their struggles and their tools for living happy and complete lives. No computer image can do that.

For the sake of those role models – and more importantly for the sake of the young people who need those role models – it’s worth pushing back against the current H&M campaign. If we’re ever going to return the beauty ideal to something that’s sane, healthy, and attainable, we need real, human women to show it to us.

Resisting the Old Boys

Though it’s not exactly a take on the Penn State scandal, my contribution for the Good Men Project’s business ethics package is up: Resist the Old Boys. Excerpt:

In our culture, we socialize men to crave the approval of other males, particularly those in positions of authority. The pressure to “give in” and join the OBN (Old Boys Network) isn’t just from older men; for many of us, it comes from within ourselves, as it speaks to our intense, socialized desire to have our masculinity validated by powerful father figures. Sometimes, the OBN coerces us to join a club we already long to join.

Perhaps that’s why it isn’t easy to refuse OBN invitations. One key way to make it easier is to seek out mentors of both sexes. Another is to form close working relationships with women as well as men, resisting the temptation to “flee” to all-male spaces. Men and women can be friends outside of work as well as colleagues in the office. As long as we maintain the fiction that that’s too difficult or too at odds with the laws of nature, the OBN will continue to have a much easier time finding new recruits among the ranks of already privileged young men while excluding women of every age. And a new generation in the Old Boys Networks will learn to cover up for the most indefensible and horrific actions of its members.