Brain damage. Death. Unlucky? Or just part of being a man? Inside the conversation at The Good Men Project.
I’m going to start by reading an email I received late last night—right after I sent out yesterday’s “best of Thursday” email.
And I’d like to read you part of my response to what she said:
As you can imagine, it has not exactly been easy. And the interesting thing is—we didn’t really set out to change the world. But because I’m someone with that creative director blood idea in me— once I heard the idea about “sparking an international conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century” and talking about “the stuff guys don’t usually talk about”—-I simply recognized those as great ideas and wanted to use everything I had learned in advertising and marketing and social media and business to make it take off.
It wasn’t until I was 2 or 3 years into The Good Men Project that I realized that the societal expectations about men (which is what doesn’t ever get talked about) are really the root causes about all kinds of problems in the world—racism, sexism, homophobia, the wealth inequality gap, homelessness, war, even climate change. It seems impossible to solve any one of those—but it may just be possible to solve ALL of them by opening up the “man-box” and to not put so much extreme pressure on men to be aggressive, competitive, financial providers, etc. I believe that is the root of so much inequality.
So that is the long-term goal, and what keeps me at it every day!
Let me be clear about what we are doing at The Good Men Project. We are not in any way shaming men or masculinity or manhood or what it means to be a man.
What we are saying here at The Good Men Project is that there are some pressures put on men to act a certain way in order to “be a man”. And ONLY when those behaviors include things that are harmful—-usually to men themselves, but sometimes also to women—do we examine them and say “hey, what if we just look if there is a better way to think about things?”
That’s it! That is what we do here. And I believe that simple action can actually change the world for the better.
Let me give you an example—-from the list of email title’s which the fan mail writer had pulled from. Let’s talk about this post: “After 50 Years, I Sent Back My College Fraternity Pin”.
The author, Merv Kaufman, had written about how he had been in a fraternity in college, and had been really uncomfortable there. He even described an act that was as part of the hazing where a group of recruits were humiliated and he kept wishing he had the courage to walk out and say “enough”—but he never did. Nobody did.
And a catalyst for him writing the article—he had been thinking about it for a long time—in the news there has been a story about a 19 year old man who died in a hazing incident in 2013, and they now have just charged 5 of the victims fraternities with murder.
Michael Deng, 19, was allegedly “blindfolded and battered while lugging 20 pounds of sand in a knapsack as the brothers “speared” him — plowing headfirst into the pledge like a football player blindsiding a defenseless victim, officials said.”
As Deng was going through the hazing, he was said to have fallen 3 times while this was happening, and then didn’t get up the 3rd time. Even then—the fraternity members brought him to the house, and instead of calling an ambulance right away they were allegedly googling his symptoms to see if they could fix them themselves.
He died of blunt trauma to the head.
When the murder charges were brought against the 5 frat members, one of them was reported to say the man who died was “unlucky.”
Unlucky. I think that word is telling.
Let me go on.
The fact that football is such a popular sport—despite reports that say that almost 1 in 3 NFL players get brain damage at some point during their careers. One out of every 3 NFL players is “unlucky”. Right?
Or, take another example, one we’ve also written about on The Good Men Project:
At the United States Military Academy, freshman cadets mark the end of a seven week summer training with a pillow fight. This event is marked as a way to build class spirit and blow off steam after seven grueling weeks of hard work. But this year was different. At the West Point, N.Y. campus, some cadets packed their pillowcases with hard objects, possibly helmets and rocks, that split lips, broke bones, dislocated shoulders and left 30 cadets injured and 24 concussed.
And now I’d like to read a response to this article from a commenter. The commenter has a point: “What do you think happens to people who actually are in the military? Do you think they don’t get hurt?” Here are the actual comments:
So now look at the 3 examples I gave.
Guys in fraternities.
Men in the military.
Whatever you think about those groups—-I think you have to agree that they are held up examples of “real men” in our society (to be clear, a term we are actively trying to eradicate here at The Good Men Project). And in the case of men in the military and football players, these men are called “heroes” nearly every day. Those groups of people are certainly highlighted by the media and our culture as Men with a capital “M”.
And what I am suggesting to you here is that the societal expectations of what it means to be a man are SO STRONG that we are able—as a society—to shrug off ‘BRAIN DAMAGE’ to men as “oh, boys will be boys’ and “that is the way it is” and “well, some people are just unlucky”.
Brain damage. Death. Unlucky? Or just part of being a man.
I’d like to open it up now.
Mark Sherman: With respect to football – and I’m a big football fan — I had sent Lisa an article by Steve Almond in which he said that he was a huge football fan, but he now finds it too difficult to watch a game because of the way men are getting hurt. So he doesn’t watch it. And I had this conversation with my sons. My sons are all good men, and they love to watch football—but they too are getting more and more concerned. But we all realized that in certain parts of the country, football is a very, very important part of community life. And yet…I do think things are changing. I am seeing more and more the humanity of men and the vulnerability of men. Parents care about their kids, they care about their sons. It’s a growing concern, and I see it.
Rick Gabrielly: A lot of the heroics we see in these three areas are based on wanting to win. I’m a coach of 14 year-year-olds. Even thought the other coaches send mixed messages that say “winning isn’t everything”—these kids aren’t stupid. Winning feels better. And so I see the kids in the back of the back of my car—they want to do things, try things, figure out how to win. Winning gets them stuff that makes them happier—trophies, ice cream, pride, admiration. The problem is—when this goes into adult life—when winning becomes the only thing for the financial part of life, for the emotional, for physical—it can then become destructive. And I’d like to know “what would winning look like if no one got hurt?” “Why does it have to be that if you knock someone down, you still feel like a winner.” How can we take the good parts of the internal competition to become a winner, without the bad parts of being destructive?
Brent Greene: I’d like to tie together two things from the opening—fraternities and college football. It’s been 47 years since I was in a fraternity, but because of the psychological and sociological ramification it could have been four years ago. Fraternities, from what I have seen, are a hot bed for teaching bad behavior to men. The teaching tools are punishment, humiliation, and exclusion—and not much good comes out of it. In Oklahoma there were fraternities that were actively racist, in Colorado there were fraternities with drinking binges that killed young men.Like the author of that post, I sent my fraternity pin back in two years after I left because it had been a sick system that harbored some very sick men.
Now tie that to the glorification of and the economic necessity for football at most major universities. And again—we are hurting our young men with these programs. But in both cases, it’s not all bad. There is teamwork, team spirit, fellowship. And these organizations are not impervious to societal pressures. So can we use societal pressures to keep the good and remove the bad?
Andrew: I am currently serving in the military in Canada. I attended the Royal Military in Canada. I will say that hazing got out of hand—and it had to get way out of hand before Canada put some pressure to change. There was a reason the 90’s were called “the decade of darkness.” It even got to the point were we were not allowed to wear our uniforms in public. But things did change. Recruits were better taught to “leave it on the field”, and that there is a time and a place for violence. Violence on the battlefield is OK, violence on the football field or kitchen is not. But I do think we will see a generational change moving forward.
Elphie: I’m from Australia, and I was banned from playing football when I was growing up. I’m 32 years old now—and as you might know, in Australia it’s called rugby and we don’t use armor. The other thing I see is the rise of video games as a way of replacing some of sports. More people were on a new video game than watched the World Series. Here, violence in sports doesn’t seem as popular with Millennials, and I think it is another case where we will see a change.
Thaddeus Howze: I’d like to point out that it is not just a cultural predisposition to violence that creates these systems. I’d like us to think more about wha we feel the need to create football games, fraternities and the military. Is it just profit? Certainly there are enormous profits to be had from football, for one. There’s profits all up and down the line—even if you don’t play football, they can monetize you when you watch it, cheer for it, drink beer. But what else? Is it camaraderie? Then what else can we do to emphasize that camaraderie without spiraling into destruction? Is it the dog eat dog mentality? How can you fix the fraternities, the football, the education system, the military, when we say “he who dies with the most toys wins?” We have to fix the urge to dominate.
Brent Green: I’m not sure if aggression is the fundamental driver. Fraternities, for example, focus on the desire to be part of a group. You are privileged to be a member of that group. There is an “in” group and an “out” group, and if you are not in, you are out.
Thaddeus Howze: I have been in the military by the way, and it was transformative. Not all good, some bad—but at the end I was able to get rid of the stuff I didn’t like. And I think at the end you have to look at what you have created. If you have created something without harming others, then you get to say “I have done something good.” The problem with fraternities is that you are told, “join us and you will have an inside track into social situations.” It’s that inside track that is wrong. Fraternities are used to separate people. Everyone has potential. Everyone. But now—we let 2/3rds of the best of humanity die starving somewhere. All the energy used to separate people should be used to bring them together.
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Photo: University of the Fraser Virginia / flickr
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