Men Have A Default, But Not A Path

…nor a goal.

I’m inching my way toward constructive work in helping to create and define positive masculinity, which leads me to think about masculinity a lot, which is weird. The reason it is weird is that there is no healthy, established pathway for the thoughts, and many of the pathways being built that I am aware of are going the wrong direction.

A Google glance at discussion around masculinity reveals a few consistent threads, none of which are helpful, and some of which are harmful:

  1. Men are garbage and the source of every imagineable human problem, today and throughout history
  2. Men are the real victims of powerful Feminists and reverse-sexism, and must band together and swallow the Red Pill and double down on toxicity
  3. Men are innately hierarchical and aggressive, and are the victims of feminizing culture and unnatural restraints on their nature (compared to the good ol’ days); this one is related to the above but feels distinct
  4. Men are less and less employable in modern economies (see who has the jobs created in the last 10 years and who lots the jobs that were lost), less and less happy and healty, committing suicide more often and overdosing more often, but no one can figure out why. See above.
    1. At the same time men are utterly in control and have all of the power, all of the wealth, and every possible privilege. We fill the prison cells and the penthouse suites.

Or, you can boil it down to two main threads:

  • There is nothing positive about men, or
  • There is nothing questionable about men

Why is it so hard to say that there are positive things about men and also questionable things about men? Not only is that the only hopeful way forward, but frankly it seems to be the fact of the matter.

In trying to start constructive work here, I’ve been focusing on my Profiles in Positive Masculinity. As I said when I started the series, rather than coming up with a ‘theory of manhood’ or something at the beginning, what I wanted to do is to present what I thought were examples of positive masculinity in the form of living human beings. This is following along with the old Greek idea of the phronemos – the wise one who teaches wisdom by example rather than by formula. (True wisdom cannot be taught with words, but it can be recognized and emulated.) My hope was, and is, that even lacking a clear path to positive masculinity, we could intuit examples of it and hold them up, and then maybe later out of that comes a theory, and then a path.

The big problem is that men who want to be good men do not have a good path to get there. What we learn from our dads and grandpas is questionable – of inconsistent quality, let’s say, since their contexts were ones where men had more unquestioned power (we might have as much power now, but it is not unquesitoned). What we learn from media is created to make us insecure so that we buy shit we don’t need and fear people we should ally ourselves with – that’s the purpose of media, to be blunt, and using media for anything else requires persistent reistsance and careful discernment. What we get from culture overall is what Utah Philips called a “blueprint for self-destruction” and, along the way, a blueprint for the destruction of others. That’s the default – we are time-bombs that, ideally, never go off. Or, failing that, maybe we only hurt ourselves. (See falling white male life expectancy and rising white male suicide rates for example)

For all the privilege that comes with being a man, this is also a horrible situation to be in. We’re given undeserved power by a system that not only hurts everyone else but hurts us as well, and so if we realize what’s going on we want to dismantle this system. We look for alternatives, and what’s articulated is either we need to be forever restrained (nothing about men is good) or that we have been lied to and we are the real victims (nothing about men is questionable). There is a third option, that men are obsolete, or headed toward obsolescence, but I don’t see this one articulated as often as the first two. It’s out there, though, so we can say there are three bad options: a jail cell, a toxic Red Pill, or obsolescence.

We’re in the penthouse of a building, but the building is on fire and there are no doors or windows.

And yet, some men stumble into positive masculinity. It’s stumbling because either a man got lucky and got great advice from the other men in his life, or he abandoned the destructive script and made it up as he went along and it turned out alright. Either someone showed him a fire escape, or he smashed through a wall and jumped.

Most men will do neither, and instead, follow the default laid out before them by  society and other men. And men are not unique in this – it is rare for any given person to break from the mold, so to speak. The problem is that the mold for men is a destructive one, for men and for everyone else.

This is my post laying out the problem. I’m not going to move to a solution here. Rather, I’ll try to continue to do slow constructive work through Profiles in Positive Masculinity, and see what comes of that. I welcome discussion, and ideas, and suggestions, as I go forward.

 

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Terry Crews

Terry Crews just got more points at character creation than the rest of us.

A few weeks ago, Terry Crews, bodybuilder and actor, testified before Congress in support of a bill of rights for sexual assault survivors. He did this as a victim of sexual assault. Here, it makes some sense to add a manly picture of Terry Crews – and there are no pictures of Terry Cews that are not manly. Let’s go crazy, though:

Image result for terry crews

Terry Crews is funny, charismatic, seemingly kind and affable, and also 6’3” of raw, certified Grade-A beef. He’s action-figure muscular; a “force of nature” indeed. You do not pull his man card, his man card pulls you. He is not the person you think of when you think of “victim of sexual assault”, even if you specify that you are talking about a male victim of sexual assault. He is who you think of when someone says, “Hey what if He-Man was recast as black?”

So, one lesson: anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. Assume nothing. Which was, of course, part of Crews’ point in testifying before Congress. Most people who see that testimony have to take a moment and think, “Oh.” Maybe even really think.

One of the few valid-seeming claims of the Men’s Rights movement is that sexual assault of men is generally ignored, even when we are trying as a society to understand and od right by female victims of sexual assault. If we have a problem with women not reporting sexual assault, we have a much larger problem with men not doing so. The same is true with domestic violence – male victims of domestic violence are genereally not taken seriously, even though there are almost certainly millions of such victims.

Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, including men, because it is toxc masculinity that says to men that seuxal assault is just “boys being boys”, or a joke, or something you should get over, or something you should be ashamed to tell anyone about. Terry Crews could pull my arms off, but he describes being humiliated into silence about what happened to him.  He is a popular, recognizeable public figure – imagine what it is like for someone who is not enormously strong and enormously famous, for the millions of victims we never hear from. What keeps them silent? For the most part, I would say it is toxic masculinity.

What can we contrast with that toxicity? The ongoing constructive work of defining and nurturing positive masculinity. In this case, we have Terry Crews using his position of influence for the greater good in two ways. First, he is speaking to Congress on behalf of the millions who will never have a moment in front of a Senate or House committee. Second, he is demonstrating to other men that speaking out is the right thing. In amongst the thoughts men might have, that they don’t want to be seen as weak, or a bitch, or a victim, there is also this kind of ray of light – we would all like to be like Terry Crews.

Be like Terry Crews. Encourage your friends to be like Terry Crews. Support men who are like Terry Crews.

 

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Philly Starbucks Guys

A lot of the articles about Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson haven’t used their names, so I didn’t feel like putting them in the title, but I imagine many of you reading this know who I am talking about. Back in April, two black men entered a Starbucks in Philadelphia (near where I live) and asked to use the bathroom. They were told that the bathroom was only for paying customers, so they sat down to wait for a friend to join them. Then the manager called the police and asked that they be arrested for trespassing. They were later released when Starbucks did not press charges.

This story hit a nerve, in large part because it is another example of how just existing while black brings suspicion from white people and unwanted contact with the police.

The response from Starbucks was pretty decent, but that isn’t the focus of this reflection. What I found really interesting was how the two men responded to the incident and what followed. There was some media attention, and they both behaved with a lot of dignity. Ultimately, there was a settlement agreement with the city of Philadelphia. The two men took $1 for themselves, and had the city donate $200,000 to set up a foundation to help high school kids who want to become entrepeneurs.

This is what positive masculinity looks like. Two young men are profiled and then unjustly harrassed and arrested by the police. This is hardly the first time they’ve experienced racism They have a chance to profit from the situation, but instead they make a statement, and take the opportunity to make life better for kids they’ll never meet. Starbucks has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. Philadelphia has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. And high school kids have a chance to learn to become entrepeneurs, and hopefully will.

Toxic Masculinity

I’ve fallen behind with my regular Friday updates to this blog, and I’m sorry.

When I post Profiles In Positive Masculinity on this blog, I’m contending with another kind of masculinity, generally referred to as “toxic masculinity.” Not that men are toxic, but that there are toxic ways that men are taught to be men. Toxic to men, and to women, and to everyone. Here is a video about it, because I have to get back to the other things that are eating up my life right now:

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: DeRay Mckesson

I think that these profiles have been a little celebrity-heavy lately, and one of my goals is to focus on an attainable idea of positive masculinity. The problem being, of course, that it is hard to find non-celebrities who are people everyone knows about, or who I can describe in a brief blog post if they aren’t widely known.

One person who came to mind is DeRay Mckesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement who has been on TV a lot but was a community activist first, and only became something of a celebrity because of the political situation in the United States. A community organizer even as a teenager, he ended up being a school administrator, before quitting his job to move to St. Louis. He had been spending all of his free time working with people in Ferguson, MO, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

First, here’s a manly image of Mckesson, one of many times he was arrested in Ferguson (and Baton Rouge, and other places):

Mckesson didn’t start the Black Lives Matter movement (three women were the originators: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi), but he did quit his job to move to the Ferguson area full-time as an activist and leader. He brought to the Ferguson movement a lot of skill with social media and communication, and rose to a position of visibility. He is one of the go-to voices and faces of BLM in the media because of what he has written and what he has risked.

I like what I know of his story, because what he has done is something that anyone could potentially do. Mckesson is not (to my knowledge) a world-class athlete; didn’t come from a prominent, wealthy family; he isn’t a celebrity in some other area who is lending his face and name to BLM. He didn’t strike it rich or have a particular string of luck – I mean, he is partly well-known because of how often he’s been arrested, and that’s not something anyone enjoys. He’s also not some kind of Everyman, but in his passion and commitment I think we can see the best of ourselves.

Black Lives Matter, and I support that movement, because I see it as a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement, which has been ongoing for generations now. DeRay Mckesson’s words and actions also matter, and the relationships he has built matter, and his arrests matter. His struggle matters and his suffering matters, and through him, we are able to get a window into a whole movement. Anyone who gives themselves to a cause can matter in these ways, and one thing he does is show us that. Anyone can fight for what’s right, and one doesn’t have to hurt anyone, or threaten to hurt, or have a lot of political clout.

For showing us what commitment to a nonviolent struggle, and integrity, and eloquence can do, even for those who don’t come into the world with any particular advantage, DeRay Mckesson is our Profile in Positive Masculinity.