Our weekly Conference calls take place every Friday at Noon EST, and are open to all Good Men Project contributors and Premium Members.
Lisa Hickey: I want to start with something that seems like a disconnect, but I want to bring it up because it is actually part of the whole ecosystem about men and manhood and the conversation we are happening.
I went to the grocery store the other day, and right at the checkout counter were the “impulse purchases”. A very long time ago, impulse purchases used to be cigarettes, before they had to be locked behind the counter. Then it was gum and candy for a long long time, and still is. But yesterday it was almonds. Small packs of almonds, all labeled “healthy”! and “just 100 calories!” I mean, what’s wrong with almonds—right?
But then, if you read about the water crisis in California—guess what is causing all those droughts? Farmers who are growing crops that require a lot of water. And what is one of the number one crops that require a lot of water? Almonds.
Now this made me mad in a way that few things make me mad. Here I am at the checkout counter, and I am being inundated with a sales pitch for something that is being touted as GOOD – when at the same time, the water crisis in California is so obviously BAD. And I think we need to solve that problem, and I think that the conversation about men and masculinity is actually one way to solve it, and I am going to explain why. Hold that thought.
Kozo Hattori, who is almost always on these calls and always has something insightful to say here—after last weeks call, Kozo took some of the things we talked about and made it into a post titled Stop Complaining About Boys / Men.
And in the post he tells a simple story about his boys who were playing with his cousins boys and running in and out of the house with Nerf guns. And the adults yelled “shut the door” and an ensuing conversation erupted over “boys never listen”. However, in fact, the next time one of the boys ran in, he DID shut the door, which obviously proved the “boys never listen” false. Yet it is so entrenched in our society as a stereotype that we have to look extra hard and have someone like Kozo call it out in writing in order to overturn that stereotype.
And then, someone whom I don’t know made a comment on Kozo’s post. And I’d like to read the comment almost in its entirety. (Think about how great that is—we have a call, Kozo writes about it, someone comments about it and that comment is so compelling I read it on the call, which will then lead to a discussion and hopefully more posts. And so it goes.) Here is the comment:
I was a high school teacher and coach for 10 years. I worked with boys and girls from age 14-18 mostly and during all of those wonderful years, I learned a few things about human nature, our (American) society, and the way we treat teens. One of the main problems with America is that we do not have any sort of ritual for boys to go through to earn their passage to manhood. Joining the high school lacrosse team teaches you a few team work skills and will get you into good physical condition, but it does not fulfill that deeper spiritual need that young men have to learn about and embrace their own masculinity.
We (the adults) (and I will add the media, our culture, our society) paint a fear-based picture for these young men of the way life is post-high school and post-college. We are a teeming mass of hurried and stressed worker bees struggling to satisfy our insatiable corporate overlords’ appetite for profits.
This tells boys that if they do not “fit in” to a mold early on, then their earning power will be impacted or worse, they could be shunned from “normal” society. Raising healthy boys who will turn into the young men who lead the social, economic and political landscapes of tomorrow starts at home. A boy learns his true sense of self worth from his parents and this is communicated in the language they use to speak to him, the berth they allow him to dream, and the support they give him as he struggles with mounting schoolwork of increasing difficulty, peer pressure to experiment with illicit substances, and sexual interactions of which they have little or no idea how to perform.
So, I go back to my original point about rituals – our society allows young men to drift on the breeze and we even lie to ourselves that this drifting takes on some kind of structure when young men hit college. It does not, of course – the drinking and sex intensifies, but for 2 of the 4 years, many have no idea what their major is, strolling around campuses with lots of grand ideas in their heads and the label “undeclared” on their academic record. Still countless more pursue that major with a lackluster spirit, doing enough to get by and graduate without really doing any serious academic work. Although it may sound like it, I am not down on the youth of America. What I am saying is that we set young men up for failure over and over again. We send them the message from a young age that their energy is bad. That they must sit still. That they cannot call out. That they must not use their hands or do anything tactile. We totally miss the point about who young men are, what they want, but more importantly, what they need – which is the same thing all kids need – love and kindness, guidance, a swift kick in the rear when they screw up, and more forgiveness – then you try it all over again.
We, the adults, need to take a step back from our busy lives for a moment and acknowledge the honor and enormous responsibility that is placed on our shoulders. We are raising tomorrow’s leaders. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to show young men the wisdom we have acquired through experience, to mentor and guide them in choosing their trade, and to be a strong supporter of the family and contributor to his household. If you ask me honestly if we are doing as good a job as we possibly can, the answer is no. Pointing fingers will not do any good, but realizing that the future we are living into is shaped by how we teach young men about the world is a good start.
I thought that was great and hope you all do too. And the final point I want to make in bringing this conversation is that there will be a video by Mark Greene, one of our Executive Editors, on The Man Box. This will be on our YouTube Channel starting on Sunday, and I encourage you all to watch it when it comes out.
When Mark talks about the Man Box, he describes it as a set of very restrictive rules that men in America follow when performing masculinity. Here’s the list of those rules:
1) Men are emotionally stoic. Not allowed to express emotions.
2) Men are financial providers–we’re not caregivers.
3) Men are decisive, very clear in their thinking— and ultimately they’re right.
4) Men are heteronormative man, aggressive, and sexually dominant inherent
5) Men are sports focused
6) Men must display confidence all the time—which is one of the most challenging part of the man box
If you stay within this center rules and regulations you’re probably gonna be alright no one’s really going to get upset with you or police you. But if you step outside of these rules you may hear things like faggot, pussy, mama’s boy—and that may not be the worst. The worst is that you might be attacked or even killed.
The way that men get policed can be very subtle. If, for example, a man puts his arm around another man and and leaves there for a little too long, you may notice people glancing at in his direction, causing the man to remove his arm. If you wear pink socks or a too fancy tie, you may hear little microagressions—jokes that aren’t quite has kind-heartedness they might appear. One example Mark uses is with boys and how a boy is allowed to carry his books to school–the difference in reactions he will get for holding his books by his side versus holding his books close to his heart. And there’s more—I really encourage you all to watch the video when it gets released.
I’d like to open it up to the group:
Jay Snook: I want to comment on the drought. I live in California and the river looks like it always does. I don’t see the drought. I don’t see them doing anything about it. I see it as the media trying to scare the public. I haven’t seen anyone out here saying they aren’t going to be taking showers. I haven’t seen the state government take steps to restrict the use.
Mark Sherman: I hope Jay is right about California. I want to bring up that great piece by Kozo and talk about the Man Box and what I see as the Boy Box. Any of us who have raised boys can see how they are put in almost a real box—not a metaphorical one even—in schools, in classrooms, by telling them to keep quiet, keep still. It is like a physical box, keeping them down. The other part I’d like to say is—we obviously shouldn’t come down on boys who don’t fit into the stereotypical masculinity mode, but we should also not be so ready to put down boys who are stereotypically masculine. I saw bullying of boys who were outside the norm when I was growing up. I should have intervened but didn’t. But still, when it comes to normal boys behavior, a quote that has always stuck with me, by Michael Thompson, is “boys are treated like defective girls.” And I ask that we not do that. That we not put down boys who are active. That we won’t say, “will you stop that” when we as adults are just too tired by their energy. And, like Kozo, really noticing and calling out the good stuff about boys—-and there is plenty of it.
Kozo Hattori: Thanks for the shoutout Mark. What I see as happening to boys is that when people say “Boys don’t listen. They are so destructive” is that a boy thinks “I’m not good. I’m so destructive.” And the thing is….that still happens to men. They think men are inherently bad, and then that gets internalized into them as an actual man.
Steve Harper: I also live in California, and I have seen the dramatic photos put out on the California government website, and the amount of damage from the drought and how it has changed over the years is almost unbelievable. It’s not sensationalist journalism, it’s data. And I appreciate your bringing up the almonds Lisa, I love almonds but will now reconsider.
Jay Snook: I live in Sacramento. I still find it unbelievable that people are not taking steps, that there is no communication from the government about what we should do—there are just no actions to back up the data you see.
Kozo Hattori: I’m in northern California. My friends who are farmers are pumping up salt water from out of their reservoirs, and some of them have to close their farms because they can’t get water from reservoirs they’ve always counted on. But I want to talk about a guy friend of mine, a guy who does random acts of kindness for people. And one day he asked a homeless man if he wanted to get cleaned up. And the guy said “yes” so my friend invited him into his house to take a shower. And he ver told his wife about it. And finally he had to tell his wife because he was going to be on a conference call where they were going to be discussing it. And his wife said, “I can’t believe you did that. You have to learn to set boundaries.” And that is what we are told as men—“make sure you are taking care of your family first.” As a stay-at-home dad, people will chastise me and say, “How come you’re not making any money but you are out volunteering?” It just goes to show—men are inherently compassionate, but when they try to act on that compassion men are told to go out and make money. The idea is first you need to make money and take care of your family and then and only then can you do volunteer work. But if you don’t do all of that, in exactly that order, then you are not compassionate enough.
Rick Gabrielly: I have been a part of men’s groups for a long time, and I decided to do a local meet up with a new group of people in the area. And at this first meet up, there were men from all walks of life, all nationalities, all ages. And what I witnessed was a lot of guys who had pre-conceived notions of what they were supposed to say. You could see the their body language change as they started sharing. The six guys all all talked about their own issues, how they are perceived, what was going on in their relationships. Because we did a face-to-face and touched each other emotionally, we all hugged at the end. It was very spontaneous. It felt like these were men who normally would be oppressed, silenced and afraid can do a lot by connecting in person. It’s like as we continues to do these calls…it feels like a family. In fact, the oldest guy in the group came to the meet up because he thought it would be a safe place to talk about things he didn’t usually discuss. They guys were transformed as they walked across the door.
Mark Sherman: I’m in a men’s group too. Guys that don’t hug is becoming the exception not the rule. I see that as a great thing. Also, I don’t know for sure but I think men feel more comfortable even on these calls. Guys who get together are changed by the experience.
Jon Stolpe: I’m also in a men’s group. It’s fourteen men, which sometimes seems a little big. We become aware of each others struggles but also are able to share in each others joy together. But these calls have different values. I appreciated hearing about the almonds, for example, because I’m on the east coast and sometimes feel like I have my head in the sand about certain things.
Our conference calls are held every Friday at noon EST. Open only to contributors and Premium Members.
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Photo: healthaliciousness / flickr