There is a stereotype out there that guys are only interested in sex, sports and beer. Maybe that’s because those are man-box approved ways of expressing joy?
This is a shortened and edited transcript of our weekly Good Men Project evangelist conference calls held every Friday at noon. Calls are open to active contributors and premium members. Here is a look inside the conversation.
Lisa Hickey: Hi all. In recent weeks, we’ve talke about some really tough topics. Racism. Prison. Men as Financial Providers. Raising boys in a challenging world. Education. Violence. Shame.
So the topic for today is Joy.
But as I was talking to some of our top editors about this topic—-I found that even joy is something that is part of the man-box dynamic.
For example, men are allowed to express joy in very narrow ways. On one hand—for your favorite sports team—express joy all you want. Yell, scream, have tears of joy roll down your face. Dress up in costumes, hug other men without apology. Joy around sporting events is not only “Man-Box approved” – it’s almost expected of you.
When you “win” the beautiful girl—go for it. (But you have to “win” her, not just fall in love. And when you “win” her—you have sex with her.) And at that moment, joy is totally appropriate. Look at every romantic movie ever made. No wonder men hate romcoms—the script is so predictable and narrow. And it is an example of the way the Man-Box dynamic is unknowingly foisted upon women.
Another Man-Box approved place to express joy is when you get a raise or a promotion—there are high fives all over the place. Because, understand, getting a raise or promotion means that you are succeeding at the man-box approved performance of masculinity that says, “I must be a financial provider. And so when I do that right, I can be as joyful as I want.”
And finally—-maybe a reason some people drink alcohol, and sometimes to excess is that it is simply an excuse to exhibit joy in a way that is not normally allowed. How many times have the words “I love you man” been uttered only while under the influence of a couple of drinks? That is the culture, that is the narrative out there.
So—one of the fascinating things about this list, to me, is something that gets back to our very early mission at The Good Men Project. On Day 1 of when we launched, we stated on our about page: “We want to change the stereotype that men are only interested in Sex, Sports and Beer.”
Think about the list I just ran through. Maybe the reason that the stereotype is out there that men are only interested in Sex Sports and Beer is because those have historically been the places where men have been allowed to express joy.
I would like to add in what two of our top Editors added in to the conversation about Men.
As Mark Greene—who speaks very eloquently about the Man Box— and I were talking today about it, and he said “Joy is a learned language. You need to grant yourself permission to be effusive. You have to learn to have the courage to love your own life.” And the Man-Box often gets in the way of that by telling you what and who you should love.
And JJ Vincent had this to say:
Oh, the limitations on how one expresses joy, that’s huge. Even taking out the what-and-who. Loud, physical, those are perfectly fine. Something good happens, party like you’re in the end zone. Sound, enthusiasm, laughter, all man-box approved. If, however, you walk around smiling quietly, maybe humming or whistling, and you’re only reason when questioned is that you’re happy – no “big thing” to attach it to – that’s generally going to get you anything from strange looks to disapproval to the very common litany of complaints from the other person.
I think it’s part of the left-behind-from-youth man-box training. To steal from the Best Thing I’ve Ever Heard From a Speaker Ever, “We don’t teach little boys how to be boys. We teach them them how not to be girls.” Quiet happiness, smiling, joy expressed mildly, those are typically expressions typically associated with girls, reality be damned. Exuberance, active, noisy happiness, boys. Think about how often, if a boy is quiet or likes being alone, someone asks, “Is he ok?”.
But you can’t go to far in the other direction. A guy’s enthusiasm can’t cross over into “women’s” expressions of joy because ohnogirly OHNOGAY! (the exception being that gay men are expected to and/or allowed to be as gleeful as can be, which is another whole set of luggage to unpack).
And let’s not forget the guilt that gets attached to everyday happy. It goes back to the reason to be happy. Can you articulate it? What is the “win”? There’s such a heavy emphasis in our lives on the negative and stoically bearing it, or bravely complaining about it (competitive complaining), that I think people take joy as almost a personal affront. If you are happy, someone else must be miserable. You are rubbing their nose in your good fortune. How often do we downplay what’s really great in our lives so as not to upset someone.
I’d like to open it up to the group.
Mark Sherman: I am older, and from a different world. But like most people, my life has gone through a lot of stages. A lot of what was out talked about as the ways we are allowed to express joy—a sports game, wining the girl—I look at that as pleasure. But joy is different. Joy for me comes from living the right way. I will tell you one moment in my life—a moment of joy. My first marriage didn’t work out, and we had a son, and both of my first wife and I got married again to other people and those second marriages lasted for both of us. And after years of difficult times, one day I was driving home with my youngest son to an intact family and I was overcome with this feeling of joy. I was literally thinking “it just doesn’t get any better than this.” And I can never say, “I am going to have joy today.” But you can set yourself up for that to happen.
Tami Banno: Joy is actually a byproduct of love. Is your feeling of joy, Mark, one of a feeling of fulfillment?
Mark Sherman: I don’t know how to describe it. It is a feeling that comes over me. Out of nowhere. And yes, I guess it is about love. That incredible feeling. But I don’t analyze it, I sit in the moment and feel it.
Kozo Hattori: Mark, I love you to death. But there’s something here that I’m going to reframe. Think about this: The percentage of time men get to spend in joy is incremental to the amount of work that is needed to create that joy. In the examples given—to win the beautiful girl often takes years of work, right? You have to change your body, learn the right moves…maybe learn poetry. Or even sports…you watch sports on Sunday because you have worked all week to get to a place where you can allow yourself to watch sports. It’s work work work to get to the joy. And I think if you pull yourself out of that state of the man box—joy is the natural state. Look babies and young children, how natural joy is. I’m happy ever Friday when I’m on these calls and afterwards when I go off to work. Someone said to me the other day “You know, you smile a lot.” The implication was “It’s odd for a man to smile that much.” Like I didn’t work hard enough for it.
Steve Harper: That really resonates with me. I am joyful you said that. Culturally I believe we lean into the space of problems. We are usually asking, “what’s wrong?” My father was always about problems, and so some of my learning and sense of self came from him. But I remember…6-1/2 years ago, my long time partner passed away. And I was doing grieving groups to try to process my grief. And what I learned was that even in the midst of the most challenging things in our lives there is moments of gratitude.
Thaddeus Howze: I’m thinking the examples at the start of the call are not relevant for me. I have an autistic son and I was told he would not speak, never go to school, never grow out of diapers. It was the most devastating thing you can imagine. Never had I imagined something like that. I was 39 years old, and didn’t know if I would ever be a parent, but once I had my son I imagined all these great things for him. Then when he was two and diagnosed, I realized none of that was going to happen. Fast forward 9 years. Years of therapy hadn’t helped him, but we finally found a way to get him to speak. And eventually we got him into a school, and every time he walks off and says, “Bye Daddy I’m off to school” I experience a real moment of joy. Joy was knowing a person I loved was going to get a real opportunity for a life in ways I hadn’t been allowed to imagine. Joy was an out-of-body experience, transcendence, a feeling there was a lightness in the universe. That is what joy is supposed to be. That is what the universe is supposed to be. That is why we have such a hard time—the is why the Man-Box (and all the boxes) steal joy away from us.
Mike Patrick: I appreciate your openness and candor about your son Thaddeus. I don’t know if you know I broke my neck playing football 44 years ago. What I found is the doctors…they set you up for the worst but hope for the best. From my experience…they told my family in 1971 that my life expectancy was 9 years. I’m going on 44 years. Mark Sherman and I have never met, but I respect him…he is older than me at 72…I just turned 60. I don’t celebrate my birthday because I vowed never to celebrate a birthday when I couldn’t walk. I kept waiting for that milestone when I’d walk again, and it never happened. And then, when I turned 60, everyone was congratulating me on social media. So I celebrated even thought I can’t walk. It was a great person. And I want to suggest talking “person-first” when talking about people with disabilities. My disability is part of me, part of my story, but it doesn’t define me. I am a person first.
Ashley Michelle Fowler: Thank you. I always appreciate person-first language. And I think it’s great that everyone is digging deep to find where the joy is coming from. And understanding where to find healthy sources of joy. But I think Lisa’s point was that our ability to express joy is sometimes limited, and why that is and when it is Ok to do so. I’ve found that with younger men, especially, on college campuses, there really is that implicit agreement that it is OK to express joy when you’ve “won the women.” And I’d like us to look even younger…what are the ways we support our younger children in their expression of joy? Asking for example: What do that want to be as fathers? What does that look like? Girls get asked that all the time about raising children. There really still are some challenges with the stereotypical measures of success.
Thaddeus Howze: You can’t teach people joy. But the powers that be can tell us when to restrict joy. Our society undermines that centeredness, that part of us that keeps us connected.
Kozo Hattori: I’d just like to suggest that in any circumstance, the universe is as it is supposed to be. Even in missing and yearning there can be joy.
Tami Banno: Internally joy is magnetic. In society today we reek negativity. It seems to me that if as humans we can just say, “you can express this joy” then the connections you can make by the vibrations will resonate outward. I have 6 children. And only one boy. And he didn’t express much joy. And I wish now I had done something differently to help him express that joy.
Steve Harper: We can’t teach joy but we can teach people to express their feelings. We can teach them to express their feelings. We can teach them to articulate joy.
Mark Sherman: I hate to sound negative, but the world is not an easy place. My wife and I will talk endlessly and at the end we often say “we are so f*cked.”
Thaddeus Howze: The world is f*cked. That has nothing to do with you as an individual. I have lived in places where people don’t have enough money to rub two nickels together. But still they can find joy and gratitude in everyday life. Or…as a black man…no one was more surprised than me to be alive at 51 years old. Yes the universe is a hostile place. But we can still fight like it matters. Find joy in the struggle. Center yourself in that.
Kozo Hattori: I’m going to challenge that idea that the universe is f*cked. It’s never f*cked. It’s man’s perception of the universe that is f*cked…worry—that is the worst thing you can do. When someone shares something with you, they are opening up and worry jabs negativity into their heart.
Ashley Marie Fowler: I really appreciate the largeness of what we are experiencing here and how we experience joy. It is being stripped of joy that is what scares us.
photo: sequester / flickr