aspiring to a world in which personality is unchained from gender
March 20, 2015 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Boys Don't Cry
If you take any personality trait—aggressiveness, say—and draw a bell curve for the distribution of this trait in girls and boys, you will find there are many girls who are more aggressive than a number of boys. But when adults buy into traditional masculine or feminine ideologies, they rear their children to conform to those norms. They try to force girls who are aggressive into not being aggressive, or boys who are nurturing into not being nurturing.
Brian Gresko interviews psychologist Dr. Ronald Levant on the evolution of maleness and the sociocultural forces that have long stifled men and fathers.

Related projects, programs, and publications:

The Fatherhood Project (resources):
  • Trains professionals in healthcare, mental health, education, and social services about the critical role fathers play in child development and family life, and how to best support father engagement in their particular context.
  • Develops direct-service programs that strengthen emotional connections between fathers and children, focus on skill-building, and improve health outcomes for children across the life cycle, with special focus on underserved populations.
  • Partners with leading researchers to scientifically validate interventions, inform program and training development, and advance knowledge in related fields.
  • Serves as a central hub for important research and practical resources – articles, videos, podcasts, links – for dads, moms, and practitioners working with fathers.
  • The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (resources):
  • Promotes the critical study of how gender shapes and constricts men’s lives.
  • Committed to an enhancement of men's capacity to experience their full human potential.
  • Endeavors to erode constraining definitions of masculinity which historically have inhibited men's development, their capacity to form meaningful relationships, and have contributed to the oppression of other people.
  • Acknowledges its historical debt to feminist-inspired scholarship on gender, and commits itself to the support of groups such as women, gays, lesbians and people of color that have been uniquely oppressed by the gender/class/race system.
  • Contends vigorously that the empowerment of all persons beyond narrow and restrictive gender role definitions leads to the highest level of functioning in individual women and men, to the most healthy interactions between the genders, and to the richest relationships between them.
  • The Men's Story Project (resources):
    The Men's Story Project (MSP) is a replicable storytelling and community dialogue project that brings exploration of social ideas about masculinity into public forums. The mission of the MSP is to strengthen social norms around the world that support healthy masculinities and gender equality.

    We work toward this mission by creating men's live story-sharing events, documentary films and other media, educational tools and community engagement campaigns and ongoing MSP Collectives.
    Voice Male Magazine (resources):
    Voice Male chronicles the social transformation of masculinity. Since its modest beginnings in 1983 as a newsletter for the pioneering Men's Resource Center for Change, Voice Male has evolved into a magazine exploring critical issues relevant to men’s growth and health while cataloguing the damaging effects of men's isolation and violence. Think of it as a tool to assist men and boys navigating their passage to an engaged understanding of manhood and masculinities.

    In its pages readers will discover a chorus of men's voices—fathers, father figures and mentors; men of color; activist men; gay, bisexual, questioning, and trans men; and younger men. The voices of women ring clear and true in Voice Male's pages as well, inspirational allies who have led the way in the work of gender justice.
    Porter Anderson for Thought Catalog: Men And Masculinities: Leveling Up With Michael Kimmel
    What is "good masculinity" today has many descriptions, some of them bracingly contradictory. And yet, the overhang of cultural history persists, normally as expectations: the job, the marriage, the family, the house, the stereotyped goals don’t go quietly — but they don’t come as early, either.

    In the NPR broadcast, Kimmel told [Audie] Cornish, "Survey after survey shows that 60 to 70 percent of men still agree with the notion that masculinity depends on emotional stoicism — never showing fear, never showing pain."
    ★ On a related note, NPR's All Things Considered produced a special series last summer featuring programs intended to explore what it means to "be a man" in modern-day America: Men In America. The hashtag? #menpr.
    posted by divined by radio (77 comments total) 165 users marked this as a favorite
     
    Anything we can do to help raise boys into men who see their value as individuals instead of "as men", I'm all about. The number of conversations I've had in the past 10 years with men (friends, bosses, coworkers) who keep saying "It's hard to know what my value as a man is, now" is just nuts. I kept thinking, that's it? That's all you think you are -- a man? Dude, you're a human being, you're an individual, you have talents and dreams -- that's your value.
    posted by gsh at 10:41 AM on March 20, 2015 [41 favorites]


    This is a terrific collection, dbr. Thank you.

    From the Levant interview, this observation:
    Boys also learn, when they get hurt feelings, to take those vulnerable feelings and turn them into aggression. When a boy gets pushed down by another boy on the playground, he figures out that he has to come back with fists full of gravel to throw at the other kid rather than a face full of tears. He transforms his sadness and fear into aggression, focusing it in anger toward the other person. That becomes part of who he is as a man.
    Something for me to ponder. Thanks.

    Previously, related: challenging traditional notions of masculinity and Violence against women—it's a men's issue: Jackson Katz at TEDxFiDiWomen.
    posted by MonkeyToes at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Cool stuff, totally on board. As a father I do, however, kinda cringe at the notion of house, job, family as a 'stereotyped goal'. These are not stereotypical goals. These are base living conditions for me, if you take 'house' to mean 'shelter'.
    posted by jimmythefish at 10:53 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Thank you for making this fantastic post, divined by radio.
    posted by clockzero at 10:57 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    They try to force girls who are aggressive into not being aggressive, or boys who are nurturing into not being nurturing.

    I was a very aggressive kid, and it really messed up my young life until I figured out how to tamp it down majorly. It wasn't until I found martial arts and kink in my 20s that I realized that it was ok for me to express that side of myself in the right contexts. I wish I'd gotten that message way earlier.
    posted by showbiz_liz at 11:07 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


    I've had in the past 10 years with men (friends, bosses, coworkers) who keep saying "It's hard to know what my value as a man is, now" is just nuts.

    There is a value though in having men see their masculinity and their existence as a man in a positive and affirming light, which is why I am quite gladdened by these sorts of resources. There's often a conflation, when certain men encounter feminist thought, between "toxic masculinity" and "masculinity" (whether in their minds or the literature/etc. itself) which definitely turns these sorts of men away from the very concept of feminism, because they consider any attack or criticism of what they've been socialized to see as an aspect 'masculinity' (e.g. relentless stoicism, aversion to acts of nurturing) as an ontological threat, regardless of whether that aspect is at all worthwhile to defend or cling to.

    It's an unalloyed good to get anyone away from concepts of gender essentialism and that boys are like this and girls are like this and if you perform or restrain yourself from performing in a certain way that has been arbitrarily assigned to your gender, there is something wrong with you. But when you're speaking with men who have grown up deeply entrenched in classic, toxic masculinity and who are now wondering what their value is in a time of great strides for women as a group -- and interpreting that as their loss in some zero-sum game in which women are the Opponent -- it's important to work within the paradigm of masculinity rather than just say "well you should see yourself as a PERSON not as a MAN." Because being a capital-M Man to these dudes is quite an important and possibly intractable part of their self-image, and ego annihilation is quite a lot to expect from someone who is just sort of foundering in their misapprehension.
    posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 11:10 AM on March 20, 2015 [33 favorites]


    That Levant interview is great; a lot of it resonated with my own life. For instance:
    Yes, those stoic, cold guys may have had a lot of love for their sons in their hearts, but it would violate their idea of what it meant to be a man to simply say, “I love you.” Men of my father’s generation, and even of my generation, believed that you had to stop providing affection to your sons by about the time they went to school lest you make them effeminate.
    My dad, a WWII vet, was very much like that. He was affectionate with me when I was small, presumably because he was so enthusiastic about finally being a father (my mother had had several miscarriages), but by the time my younger brothers came along he'd gotten over it (and had started suffering from depression, something I had no idea of until years later), and neither of them has fond memories of him. In his eighties, after my mother died, he finally started awkwardly hugging us and muttering "I love you," which I thought was remarkable. Then after he died, when we were cleaning out the house, I found a birthday card I'd sent him from grad school decades earlier with an affectionate message inside; it blew me away to realize how much it must have meant to him. Thank goodness that "men don't show emotion" attitude is slowly dying out.

    In high school, where I was a classic nerd, lousy at sports and always with my head in a book, I was insulted to my face by a drunken classmate at a party. I just turned my back on him and ignored him. A couple of friends standing around said (words to the effect of) "Dude, he insulted you, you can't ignore it! You have to fight him!" I thought that was stupid and said so. But I was still very much in the "men don't show emotion" groove; it took my first serious girlfriend, in college, to knock that out me. She simply wouldn't put up with my bullshit: "I know you're angry, don't pretend you're not, and you're going to tell me why!" Every woman I've been involved with since has been grateful to her. But I'm here to tell you it's not easy getting over the conditioning.

    On preview:

    > Because being a capital-M Man to these dudes is quite an important and possibly intractable part of their self-image

    Well, they've got to man up and get over it.
    posted by languagehat at 11:16 AM on March 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


    Wonderful interview, and I look forward to digging into the rest.

    This made me so sad, though:
    In one study, researchers showed children between the ages of four and six slides illustrating different emotions. They videotaped the children’s faces looking at the slides. Then the child’s mother would watch the child’s face, and she had to identify which slide the child was viewing. Was it an angry face, or a sad one, or happy, etc. Mothers could accurately identify what their sons and daughters, at the age of four, were seeing. As the children got older, though, the mother’s accuracy with the boys went down, until at six years of age she could not identify the emotions in her son’s face. Why? Because in preschool and kindergarten, boys receive peer group influence from other boys who have been told by their fathers to “man up” and don’t cry. Those boys then punish the boys who deviate from these gender norms. Through this socialization, boys learn that expressing emotion is feminine or gay, that it’s bad, that they shouldn’t do it. This, I fear, is not changing that much in school.
    I also hadn't really connected some of these trends in challenging toxic masculinity with the higher divorce rates, and therefore higher numbers of fathers doing at least some single-parenting, in the 1960s and 1970s. There's the "Sensitive New Age Guy" stereotype from that time period, but I hadn't thought of some of that being related to parenting.
    posted by jaguar at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


    Well, they've got to man up and get over it.

    I know you're being facetious, at least a little bit, but it's important to not leave Fred Flintstone lunkhead bros by the wayside, because they're the ones that, in their woe-is-me confusion end up wandering into, populating and supporting the culture of MRA, the Manosphere, TheRedPill, etc.

    Are there more needy candidates for society's attention, effort and support than these guys? Obviously. But these guys go on to become fathers, and fathers to sons, and at that point, it benefits everyone if they're at least a little bit inclined to tip away from toxic masculinity before they pass it on to their children like some sort of emotional congenital syphilis.
    posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 11:27 AM on March 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


    My kiddo is like a walking lesson in this. He has some natural aggression of his own, but also has had to deal with peer pressure to be more aggressive (as well as cool, i.e., unemotional) and to be good at sports (not his thing).

    His current coping mechanism is to mockingly holler "I'm gonna MAN it!!" when he's doing something that requires a lot of physical effort, while making exaggerated grunts and roars. It's like he's mocking it, but also I get the feeling that he does get stung when he feels like he's not "masculine" enough, so he's also kind of dealing with that.

    But he does try not to cry, he does worry that girl video game characters are not ok for him to play, and it's hard to watch that happen and not feel like there's much I can do about it, as his mom. His dad tries, but peer opinions just count for so much more.

    I think he'll be ok in the long run, but I know there are and will be hurts as he runs up against cultural expectations.
    posted by emjaybee at 11:38 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


    This is a well put together post. Thanks for making it.
    posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:41 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Years ago I was working at a summer camp and we had a group of young children playing an acting game. When it was one rather blustery young boy's turn to act, he suddenly turned shy. After watching him struggle for a few moments, we told him "You don't have to if you don't want to." His response was to set his face and declare "No, I'll do it! I'm a man." I was utterly shocked that he already felt the need to be "masculine" at 4 or 5 years old.
    posted by Rora at 11:47 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    jaguar: in preschool and kindergarten, boys receive peer group influence from other boys who have been told by their fathers to “man up” and don’t cry. Those boys then punish the boys who deviate from these gender norms.

    I have a 3.5 year old son who is in preschool, which is great for socializing, but also reminds me my life experiences and expectations, and in turn those I'm placing on my son, are often outside the norm.

    I wasn't raised to be a macho man, but "boys don't cry" is beyond being macho - it's the norm. I remember a few instance of crying at something, once after going through Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust with a group my high school, and being the only guy who was showing much of any emotion. I just wondered, how can you show nothing after seeing all that?

    Now my son comes home from daycare, talking about shooting bad guys and what guys wear versus what girls wear, things my wife and I don't talk about, read to him or show him. I don't think we've gotten to emotional gender roles yet, but I fully expect that to come in the near future, here or elsewhere. He still likes to wear mom's make-up and his favorite colors are pink and purple (and orange and black and ...), but I expect that will get challenged, too. Whenever that happens, we'll try to talk about it all, just like we're talking about why you don't need to shoot all the bad things, and that maybe bad guys aren't that bad, and just made some bad decisions. (Don't get me started on gender roles in books, where gender is assigned to objects without a particular gender.)

    Thanks for these links, I'm looking forward to seriously digging in.
    posted by filthy light thief at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Growing up, being stoic was not part of masculinity to me, it was part of being mature. I had a tendency to rage early on, but latched onto Spock as a role model. Later, I discovered I was a crier at movies, something that never bothered me--this never struck me as a contradiction, it was just who I was.

    Now, my younger son is a crier and a rager, and I wish I could give him just a bit of the stoicism, though I wouldn't want him to lock down as much as I did.

    Meanwhile, my older son has latched on to a lot of the masculine stereotypes, and it really bothers me. Recently, he said that he'd never allow a son of his to watch something like My Little Pony (a show my younger son likes a lot, though he's not currently into it), that he'd do everything he could to make sure his son wouldn't do anything that would make him unpopular or a target for mockery.
    posted by Four Ds at 11:54 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    There's often a conflation, when certain men encounter feminist thought, between "toxic masculinity" and "masculinity"

    I mentioned this deep in another thread, but it probably bears repeating here — "toxic masculinity" is itself a phrase coined in the therapeutic men's movement, basically aimed at giving exactly this kind of already masculine-encultured man a vocabulary that he can use to sort the "toxic" from the non-"toxic" parts of his male self-image.

    That is, despite being kind of diluted into common-parlance Internet genderspeak these days, it's probably useful to try to remember that "toxic masculinity" was initially a talking point coined for a specific audience. (I myself have serious doubts about the ultimate salvageability of masculinity tout court for really feminist and anti-gender-essentialist purposes, and also about the advisability of peddling moral-hygiene ideas about "toxicity," but it still seems pretty unquestionable that it's a useful bit of rhetoric for this specific, pragmatic purpose.)
    posted by RogerB at 12:01 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


    I wasn't raised to be a macho man, but "boys don't cry" is beyond being macho - it's the norm.

    I grew up in a counterculture that stressed (or did as best as it understood how to stress) gender equity, and undermining patriarchal thinking and hierarchies - and, at age 42 as the father of two small kids, I'm only now fully understanding how deeply and probably intractably gender policing is rooted in almost every facet of US culture. Between the aspects likely based in hard-wiring we leftists wave our hands attempting to deny, and the fact that even many well-educated people that have benefited from feminism seem to be falling all over themselves in their rush to embrace a romanticized version of Eisenhower-era gender norms, I don't see substantial change happening in my lifetime, if ever.

    And I'm lousy at male gender conformity and always have been - it makes me deeply depressed to think that, if my kids end up inheriting this, they'll have to deal with all the frustration, alienation, and disillusionment that I have about gender norms. I refuse to try and bully them into conformity, though. I really don't know what to do about any of it.
    posted by ryanshepard at 12:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


    Wow, Porter Anderson is really good at engaging with the MRA types flooding the comments.
    posted by Ragged Richard at 12:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


    In the course of attempting to discourage boys from being nurturing and girls from being aggressive, society also tries to force girls who aren't nurturing into being nurturing (Because Girls), and boys who aren't aggressive into being aggressive (Because Boys). I saw it happen in a very up close and personal way with me in the former role and my brother in the latter and it was straight-up horrifying to live through. The hell he was given as a gentle, quiet little boy who just so happened to love wearing glittery jewelry and dresses as he played with his Barbie dolls was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and living in proximity to his experiences brought about the dawn of my life as an incredibly shrill feminist hell-bent on destroying all gender norms everywhere always and forever.

    Nowadays I talk to my dude friends a lot -- A LOT -- about the ways in which they've been made to feel as though their entire existence has somehow fallen short of traditional "masculinity" and the incredible amount of grief the internalization of that idea has given them. It fucking breaks my heart to know how much pain they've experienced, only to have that pain exacerbated by the cultural inculcation that tells them they need to keep it all inside for the rest of their lives, lest they be kicked out of the Man Club.

    So even though I'll never know what it's like to grow up under male-gendered restrictions and limitations, I do know that the assignment and embrace of traditional "masculine" gender norms is a practice that can't die out soon enough. It poisons people. It kills people. It makes boys and men psychologically torture themselves and each other to death. This is the understatement of the century, but seriously: Fuck that. Eternal fist-bumps of solidarity to all my secretly (and not-so) sparkly, nurturing, tender-hearted dudes out there. I love every single one of you.
    posted by divined by radio at 12:17 PM on March 20, 2015 [43 favorites]


    eponyouknowtherest
    posted by longbaugh at 12:18 PM on March 20, 2015


    Men: kiss and hug your male friends. Feels good.
    posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I once asked the men on a predominantly-male mailing list I was on "How many of you have ever cried in another man's arms?" One person said "Well, does getting drunk with them and never touching them count? Because then, lots, but otherwise none." And about six men got REALLY AGGRESSIVELY ANGRY with me for asking the question. But none of the guys could ever name a time when they'd gotten that degree of emotional comfort in a time of vulnerability from another man -- not even from their own fathers.

    That's a tragedy, to me. That's terrible. Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort.
    posted by KathrynT at 12:33 PM on March 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


    KathrynT, that is heartbreaking.
    posted by sutel at 12:36 PM on March 20, 2015


    Thanks for this post, divined by radio. This is a good post.
    posted by daisyk at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Wow, Porter Anderson is really good at engaging with the MRA types flooding the comments.

    It's one of the current FAILS of the internet that I can't just send him money (or some other form of reward) immediately. The guy's showing prodigious comedic wit and the patience of saint, and he seems to be smiling through it all. Brilliant.
    posted by philip-random at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    For me, thoughts about what masculinity is or could be are very much confused with my sense of nonbinary gender identity. I reject the things expected of men (*), but I don't think that's the entirety of why I don't feel like I'm one of them exactly.

    By the time I was old enough to go to school, I had mostly given up on being a mermaid princess and mostly forgotten about it. But I was a sensitive boy who let out all my emotions, and that made me a social outcast, which hurt more, and made my parents worry and wonder what was wrong with me. (A visit with a child psychologist was worse than useless; he tried to prescribe tranquilizers to stop my crying and "shut me up." That's why there was only the one session.)

    By early teens I went in for paranoia and just assumed everyone was out to hurt me, so I pretended to ignore them and pretended to be stoic. Which made me unhappier and more screwed up. Thankfully, a very persistent girl who I rebuffed far too many times helped me work it out.

    I kind of wonder how different my childhood had been (and thus, confidence and health and whatnot through the following couple of decades) if (A) I hadn't been held to society's standards of masculine behavior and found lacking, and/or (B) I had recognized my own gender identity and thus had a narrative for why I wasn't fitting in. Although (B) could actually have made things worse, I'm not sure.

    (*) And yet, over the years, I've still been conditioned into most of the aversions that masculinity brings with it. I would feel icky about touching men, or for that matter, women who aren't my wife or my mom. I bottle up my emotions most of the time and have trouble getting the cork out even in private sometimes. (Though I do cry at movies, even when it doesn't particularly seem appropriate to.) I can't seriously consider taking on a gender presentation that leans more toward the feminine because it brings guilt and shame and feeling ridiculous. And it annoys and frustrates me that I feel like that despite everything.
    posted by Foosnark at 12:40 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


    I'm only now fully understanding how deeply and probably intractably gender policing is rooted in almost every facet of US culture.

    It's everywhere. I make little comments on here from time to time, but typically when watching television, it's non-stop. Every other commercial. Every day it's just like watching culture drip down out of the television. It's hard to get across positive messages to friends and family members when you know that it's flowing like water out of a tap all times of the day. And here you are with a paper towel every so often. They're soaking in it. Walk to the store and see the girls legos and the boys legos. That there is a girls section and a boys section is just nonsense. That those sections exist on Amazon is just as silly.
    posted by cashman at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


    Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort.

    We do, but yeah, generally it's before or after the worst point emotionally, when we feel like we can at least "keep it together" in the company of others. When we don't think we can do that, we tend to just isolate ourselves for a while. I do this, anyway. I would argue that there's nothing wrong with being visibly upset around good friends, and yet... that would embarass me terribly, so I actively avoid that. And don't really know why.
    posted by FishBike at 12:42 PM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


    Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort.

    My experience with this has been the opposite - it's generally my male friends that I confide to about things that worry or frighten me, because I often feel the need to keep up a controlled, confident face at home. I know I'm not alone in this, though maybe some men are socialized to deny it. In my experience in even left-leaning cisgender het relationships, there's really only so much weakness that you can show and still be attractive, and it isn't much.

    Traditional masculinity is really a suffocating double-bind in this regard.
    posted by ryanshepard at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


    I think the ironic thing is that, if there is even a grain of truth to the socializations, it's supposed to be healthy for the children and survival of the species (i.e. people who birth do often produce the milk and continue a bond already created in utero in many cases and having increased empathetic responses during this time both biological and socialized may actually help children) and we have had periods in our survival where meat eating was literally survival, and we need people who DAMPEN empathy to see animals suffer and not respond to it... to fight wars and see people suffer and not care.

    However all those traits we see as socialized to be "ideal" in men are traits we see biologically increase DURING times of stress (i.e. aggression tends to go up in men raised in stressed or parents who had a lot of adversity, whereas nurturing goes up in women indicating this specialized roles may (MAY!!) have a bases in biology in some limited cases but not in others.)

    What I mean is even if they ARE beneficial in times of dire stress, they are actually HARMFUL to children because they increase aggression (people who fight in wars tend to have more problems with domestic violence toward their family which is NOT beneficial for the survival or health of children)....

    Like even if you want to see fathers as potentially having slightly different roles than mothers, and I do think societies and families thrive on specialization and diverse traits and skills, the ones we have created are actively unhealthy and NOT in the interest of survival which is how they are promoted!

    I mean, I too want to see each individual completely free to cultivate their true self, without any constraints by gender... but even for those who like the idea of gender--- the roles we have allocated now are seriously toxic, and require that women enable these toxic abusive beings by being totally subservience to their will and hand holding the beastly men no matter what they do. It's gross. Even if you want to make an argument that people SHOULD modify roles based on welfare of children or society as a whole-- cold-hearted emotionless people are really toxic and we need a lot less of that in the world. We also need MORE support of aggression that is desiged to serve self defense or to stop abusers or seriously dangerous toxic people.... a lot LESS forgiveness culture (most often heaved onto the shoulders of women) where survivors are asked to be loving and kind or to let go of all anger or negative emotions towards horrific abusers and any sign of anger or rage is seen as being EVEN WORSE THAN the abuser! Because survivors are supposed to be all peace and love all the time or else THEY are hurting THEMSELVES with their anger!

    Women's anger is seen as innately bad and self damaging and a sign of failure- whereas mens ruthlessness to anyone but themselves and their family is praised as a sing of "autonomy"

    It's all a mess. Anyway, great post, thanks. Compassion should be part of being human, not constrained to one gender. Understanding and support of behaviors that may be unsavory, aggressive, or self centered- but may be necessary for survival or personal well being- should not be judged any differently if it's a man or woman doing them to survive.
    posted by xarnop at 1:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Sorry for the quick drive-by comment, and I'll try to find a source later, but I have read that trans guys who take testosterone notice that they cry less, and sometimes they physically can't even when they feel sad. I find that fascinating. Certainly a lot of stoicism (and aggression) is culturally inflicted on men, but trans guys (who take T) shake up that narrative a bit.
    posted by desjardins at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


    As a father I do, however, kinda cringe at the notion of house, job, family as a 'stereotyped goal'.

    I think what they mean by this is more the idea that in order to be a real, fully adult man, you have to unlock the achievements of owning property (the larger and more isolated from "society" it is, the better), being the primary breadwinner (which also involves having a Career as opposed to just a job), and marrying a woman and producing offspring (but spending money, not time, on them).
    posted by en forme de poire at 1:12 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Ragged Richard: Wow, Porter Anderson is really good at engaging with the MRA types flooding the comments.

    Guest > Porter Anderson • 6 months ago
    See I sort of have to care. It's my posterity you are messing with. I, as a man of wordly experience, can see through this for what it is. The younger, more naive generations, cannot. You are attempting yet again to build that failed homo sovieticus. Come to think of it, not even the Soviets wanted to mess with masculinity because it was masculinity that built everything they had....
    Ah, the noble posterity of the anonymous man on the internet, defender of Robbie the Riveter, the forgotten, pre-war brother of Rosie. But in the face of all that raging BS, Porter Anderson plugs away, civil and level-headed. Porter Anderson is now my "online commenter" spirit animal.

    (And I now read comments like this as if they're said by Agent Jack Thompson, because that makes me smile, because I know there's a bunch of Agent Carters, saving his ass from countless fires large and small, while he blithely stumbles through it all.)
    posted by filthy light thief at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2015


    As the parent of a 4-year-old boy, it is so disheartening how many ideas about gender he is already bringing home from preschool. He used to love pink and purple and ponies. Now these are yucky because they are girl things. I try and tell him that people can like whatever they want, and all the colors are for everybody, etc. but it's like spitting in the ocean. I used to think raising a boy was going to be so much easier than raising a girl but I am pretty sure I was wrong.
    posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    I think what they mean by this is more the idea that in order to be a real, fully adult man, you have to unlock the achievements of owning property (the larger and more isolated from "society" it is, the better), being the primary breadwinner (which also involves having a Career as opposed to just a job), and marrying a woman and producing offspring (but spending money, not time, on them).

    This is my position in society, but I arrived there completely by accident of circumstance and have never felt entirely comfortable in the role--primarily because people make so many assumptions about you, and tend to imagine you must be in the role you wanted to be in. But in reality, sometimes accidents of circumstance are what lead to your occupying a particular social role, and there's not much you can do about it without letting down people who you care about and who depend on you (due to the same accidents of circumstance).

    Thanks for this discussion. Very timely for me...
    posted by saulgoodman at 1:32 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


    (I used to think raising a boy was going to be so much easier than raising a girl but I am pretty sure I was wrong.

    It's a different kind of challenge. My wife, one of four daughters, is a high school math teacher, and she is happy we have two boys, not girls, despite Thing #1 being a rather physical, aggressive little man at times.)
    posted by filthy light thief at 1:34 PM on March 20, 2015


    I know I'm not alone in this, though maybe some men are socialized to deny it. In my experience in even left-leaning cisgender het relationships, there's really only so much weakness that you can show and still be attractive, and it isn't much.

    Yes. So much. You can be around the most enlightened of friends and loved ones, and it doesn't matter because it's a constant fight in everybody's own head to rid themselves of gender norms. And at some level adults today have had it ingrained in us so much that people have reactions that have been programmed into them that they experience from their subconscious and then later have to restructure.

    It's a pain in the ass, and it's sad to watch people you care about turn into the people they don't want to be, before pulling themselves back into a progressive mindset.
    posted by cashman at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    That's a tragedy, to me. That's terrible. Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort

    As a man, what I find particularly bizarre is that women don't know this. I mean, I know that woman tend to have more intimate friendships, physically and otherwise. That women talk about their sex lives is a cliche (that men tend to try and block from their minds most of the time :-)) .

    Why does the taciturn quality of most men's relationships come as a surprise? Perhaps there is a vague hope that there is something there which women don't see and therefore don't have to deal with -- but in my experience, there is not. It is too risky to open up to most people, even in intimate relationships, because we (I) have learned very well that you will be rejected for doing so. It takes two to tango.

    So I reject the idea that it's just the fathers that have to change their internal dialog. Lots of women don't want to hear it from guys for the similar socialized reasons guys don't want to hear it from other guys. It diminishes them in their eyes.

    Similar to guys who can't handle a woman who is angry, the last thing a lot of women want to come to grips with is that the "man" is not an abstraction, and potentially just as emotionally vulnerable as they are. I think it's less pernicious because men have more power, but it is there. According to social norms, being emotional support is not being a friend when it's a man leaning on a woman, it's being his mother.
    posted by smidgen at 1:48 PM on March 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


    When I did discipline for school board, especially at the high school level, we had SO MANY boys who had exactly one way of expressing negative emotions -- anger -- and anger stood in for fear, frustration, hurt, sadness, rejection, disappointment, jealousy, guilt, even apologeticness. Eventually they'd land in big trouble for lashing out in inappropriate anger, but they had no other coping skills. It was like every negative emotion they'd ever had they were told to "be cool" or "man up" and the only negative emotion they were allowed to express was anger ... so ALL their negative emotions became anger, and they walk around just LOOKING for someone to lash out at to release it.

    That terrifies me for my own sons. I am trying to give them lots of words for their negative emotions.

    (And then I think about, in junior high feelings class we were told if we felt sad we could always "punch a pillow" which ... is true, but also seems like a conflation of sadness with anger, and maybe we should define emotions before enacting them? I don't know, being an adolescent sucks.)
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:51 PM on March 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


    And then I think about, in junior high feelings class we were told if we felt sad we could always "punch a pillow" which ... is true, but also seems like a conflation of sadness with anger

    UGH. As someone who spends a lot of time helping adults learn what emotions actually feel like... UGGGGGHHHH. Kids get such horribly inaccurate damaging messages about their feelings. No wonder we're all struggling as adults.

    Yes, that is a horrible conflation of sadness and anger.
    posted by jaguar at 1:55 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


    Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort.

    Broadly speaking, I think you're right. And on the whole, my intuition is that a lot of men I have encountered in my life probably haven't benefited enough from this practice. But there I stop because, as always, the devil's in the details, and the unasked questions here are "Do men (qua men, I'm assuming) turn to each other for comfort?", "How would we even know for certain?", and "Are there specific practices for seeking comfort which are healthier or more satisfying than other practices?"

    The latter question might speak to "How many of you have ever cried in another man's arms?" To what degree might we want to make that practice a register for emotional health? (Which is to say, what does it mean that some set of men haven't cried in another man's arms? Does it mean that they feel that they can't seek comfort or that they seek that comfort in other ways? Are there optimal comfort-seeking practices?) I think these are some of the more finely-grained questions that tend not to be asked in these more general discussions.

    Speaking personally, I've never had much use for the rituals of masculinity and manliness and I'm no one's model of a successful "man" in any traditional sense. And yet, if I felt that crying in another man's arms was an emotional register that was expected of me, I would be just as averse to it as I am to demands to "man up."
    posted by octobersurprise at 1:56 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


    But none of the guys could ever name a time when they'd gotten that degree of emotional comfort in a time of vulnerability from another man -- not even from their own fathers.

    It's interesting that this post should go up today, because earlier this morning I was just reading a couple articles discussing notions of maleness and how guys don't touch each other, or really anybody, very much -- for comfort, or otherwise -- and I think there's really something to that. I'm not totally sold on all his arguments or all his conclusions (I think he focuses heavily on homophobia as a big cause and I think the roots are more complex than that), but I found it all pretty thought provoking:

    The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer


    Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch

    I mean, I go days at a time without touching another person pretty regularly, and I've definitely gone weeks at a time without touching somebody, and to me that's just normal, even though on an intellectual level I'm aware it's not really, and moreover, really shouldn't be, but I think the collection of old photographs that second article links back to really punched home for me the idea that the ways modern men are socialized are really genuinely not normal in a way that never really made it from my head down into my gut before.
    posted by mstokes650 at 2:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


    I'm trans, was raised a boy. Dad made me start fighting in 5th grade. He said that he didn't care if I won or lost a fight, but that if he ever heard that I had backed away from one, he'd beat me himself. Which was completely plausible to me, he was terrifying.

    In college, after my first suicide attempt, he found that I didn't believe he loved me at all. My logic: he never said it, ever. (Oddly, not the violence.) He lived for 10 years after that. I didn't leave him *once* during those 10 years without him saying he loved me. Pre WWII generation Dad.

    He was magnificent. He failed magnificently, and he succeeded magnificently.
    posted by Ambient Echo at 2:22 PM on March 20, 2015 [38 favorites]


    But what about th- oh, wait, never mind...

    This is important stuff, and I think finding and promoting a non-toxic masculinity is an important component of everyone having better lives. Hopefully my son will grow up differently, and better, than I did, and this is a good reminder to step up and focus on it.
    posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:23 PM on March 20, 2015


    mstokes650, that's part of what I go for massages every other week for. Someone pets me! I'm happy to pay for that, it's wonderful. All my friends are 2000 miles away, and hugs with them are one of the things I miss the most.
    posted by Ambient Echo at 2:24 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I think the whole lack of touch thing also has to do with the fact that touch can make you more aware of what you're feeling. It's easier to be stoic when you're not touching or being touched.
    posted by Jpfed at 2:39 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


    (Which is to say, what does it mean that some set of men haven't cried in another man's arms? Does it mean that they feel that they can't seek comfort or that they seek that comfort in other ways? Are there optimal comfort-seeking practices?)

    The question came in the middle of a big discussion of gender roles and feminism and men feeling useless and unneeded in the wake of increasing economic and social opportunities for women. (This was about 15-16 years ago, too, the conversation has moved a long way since then.) At the time, I had sort of an emerging hypothesis (which I think still has some value) that the "traditional gender roles" in a cishet partnership involved the man providing material/financial support and physical protection, and the woman providing emotional support and domestic management/children. The mid-century women's movement was a lot about women gaining economic and social opportunities independently of men, which I of course think is great, but I think it left a lot of men feeling sort of adrift in the intergender social contract-- like, "if women can get this stuff on their own, then what do men as men bring to the table?" The problem is, just like men couldn't develop women's economic opportunities for them, women can't develop men's emotional opportunities for them.* Someone was asking what that would even look like in this discussion, and I offered the "cried in another man's arms" example in that context.

    I also think this women=heart and hearth, men=money and guns view of partnerships is behind that jawdropping question people ask about gay relationships, "Which one is the wife?" Because, after all, without a wife -- without someone providing the emotional support and space for domestic tranquility and rest -- how can you even have a relationship, right?

    *However, as was alluded to upthread, women can definitely lower the social friction around giving men room to develop those opportunities without facing pushback -- just as men can act as allies for women doing the same in other venues.
    posted by KathrynT at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


    I mean, I go days at a time without touching another person pretty regularly, and I've definitely gone weeks at a time without touching somebody, and to me that's just normal,

    ... Huh. Maybe that's why I generally like going down to the barber. That modern rarity, human touch.
    posted by CrystalDave at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Great post, DVR, thanks!
    posted by Drinky Die at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2015


    It's interesting to me how guys act in American sports. On the one hand there is an entrenched homophobia present in many of the most popular sports in America (professional and recreational). On the other hand, there is so much touching going on. Hand slapping, butt slapping, fist bumping, huddling up. Jumping in the air simultaneously and going chest-to-chest. Jumping simultaneously and going back to back. The arm-bar thing. Elaborate handshakes. Almost think up the body part and I can think of a play in the past year or two that shows it touching on two different people.

    Lebron James tweeted out this picture of his teammates and him a week ago, and I remembered it as much more cozy than it is. There are really only 3 hands on one another. But during the game, there will be hand touches of all kinds, even hitting the back of your hand against someone else's hand. Chris Bosh hit a game winning shot and afterward, Lebron and Dwyane Wade came and touched him in all kinds of ways as they jokingly treated him like James Brown. Basketball players will jump on each other's backs, give full embrace hugs, all that.

    In outdoor pickup games I've blocked guys shots and had them playfully push me afterward. These are guys I didn't know me 20 minutes before. So I get lots of touching playing sports. Guys don't cry after losses but dudes will comfort one another if they tried to make some play but the other player just outdid your teammate. And something else I've experienced in recent years is guys talking at the court. I'm pretty much at whatever court it is because I want to play and I rarely get so tired I quit. But I'll see guys who just hang around long after the games have ended (and aren't there to play another game), or they just show up to talk about whatever, even though they are dressed to play. I'm not saying it's a secret place where guys go and act 'normal' and nobody knows about it, because some of these same guys will literally stop a game to stare at a woman walking by, but it is to me an interesting mix of occurrences.
    posted by cashman at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


    On the one hand there is an entrenched homophobia present in many of the most popular sports in America (professional and recreational). On the other hand, there is so much touching going on.

    I've generally thought the first is what allows the second -- if there's a strong taboo against homosexuality, then men can touch without being thought gay.

    It'll be interesting to see if that shifts as more professional athletes come out.
    posted by jaguar at 3:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    So, just throwing this out there but... you know, it's not the most fun thing to read about how critical fathers are to child development when you're a woman having children with her wife, who will have no father, and whose development will be just fine, thanks. If you wouldn't say "Every child needs a mother and a father," maybe rethink using (or endorsing) this kind of phrasing.
    posted by cloudburst at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


    So I reject the idea that it's just the fathers that have to change their internal dialog. Lots of women don't want to hear it from guys for the similar socialized reasons guys don't want to hear it from other guys. It diminishes them in their eyes.

    This persistent idea that to be a human being with emotions renders one lesser is so pervasive and so harmful.
    posted by Deoridhe at 3:23 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I know this has been addressed somewhat upthread but this struck me:

    "I once asked the men on a predominantly-male mailing list I was on "How many of you have ever cried in another man's arms?" [...] And about six men got REALLY AGGRESSIVELY ANGRY with me for asking the question. [...] Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort."

    I think that second sentence goes to explain why the third doesn't come to pass, at least in my experience. I know that I [as a cishet man] have, on balance, more strong friendships with women because I feel I can trust them more [again, on balance] not to react violently or aggressively in emotionally charged situations. It likely does make my life poorer not to have so many similar friendships with men, but it's also a strategy that's overall worked for me thus far.
    posted by thegears at 3:27 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I'm going to be pouring through these links for a good long time, and I thank you, dbr, for posting this. At 57, and supposedly having rejected a lot of "traditional" masculine definitions early in life, I surprisingly find myself dealing with exactly these issues with my therapist now. I have no idea how I ended up having internalized so much of this bs, but it's shocking, confusing, and really messing me up right now.
    posted by Thorzdad at 3:58 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    I really appreciated this post, divined by radio. I didn't know these organizations and resources existed.
    posted by nangar at 5:08 PM on March 20, 2015


    So, just throwing this out there but... you know, it's not the most fun thing to read about how critical fathers are to child development when you're a woman having children with her wife, who will have no father, and whose development will be just fine, thanks. If you wouldn't say "Every child needs a mother and a father," maybe rethink using (or endorsing) this kind of phrasing.

    I think there's a difference between saying "every child needs a father" and "it's valuable and important for men to be involved in parenting." Especially in light of persisting cultural norms that tell a father out with his kids that "oh it's so nice of you to babysit" or whatever. If we as a culture are going to detoxify the concept of masculinity, it's really important for there to be male mentors and teachers and, yes, parents to be out there on a broader cultural scale. I'm less concerned here with the learning and more with the effect of having more men going out and thinking about teaching, about their responsibility to the development and support of other men. Does that make sense?

    And for what it's worth, my (theoretical, future) kids won't have a dad either, and I'm completely okay with that. But I would like to see more dudes thinking about parenting philosophy and what it means and thinking about mentoring other men and supporting other men, because I think many of the men of my acquaintance could use more support and more practice doing the emotional labor out there. (Not all! I know a lot of guys who are fabulous teachers and models and so forth.) In a post talking about how guys can get involved and how frustrating it is to some men to really be the emotionally engaged person they want to be, it feels a little deraily to me to be focusing on lesbians' children.
    posted by sciatrix at 6:09 PM on March 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


    By early teens I went in for paranoia and just assumed everyone was out to hurt me, so I pretended to ignore them and pretended to be stoic. Which made me unhappier and more screwed up. Thankfully, a very persistent girl who I rebuffed far too many times helped me work it out.


    That's because anyone could be, and our flight/fight responses are primed to minimize the risk of relatively rare but high-cost threats. So what happens when you take a kid, surround them with verbal harassment seven hours a day for five days a week, and then escillate that harassment to battery and rape now and then? Is it any wonder that we do a better job murdering ourselves than being murdered outright? I'm a cranky broken record, but we can ban mercury and lead around actuarial statistics about the effects on young minds, while the next statehouse battle is religious conscience clauses for homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny.

    A much as Alan Ginsburg was problematic with a capital P, I can't help but see Howl as prophetic and apocalyptic. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness," check. "Ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe," check. I can only hope for a messianic/bodhi svaha third act where mad queers are liberated in solidarity, followed by a footnote where the sacredness of our existences is fully affirmed.
    posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:36 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I think there's a difference between saying "every child needs a father" and "it's valuable and important for men to be involved in parenting."

    Yes, there's quite a big difference, that's my point! I'm in favor of men taking more responsibility for actually parenting their children. It's just that we can do better than to frame this as being about "the critical role fathers play in child development" as though children without fathers are missing out on, well, a "critical" aspect of their development, which begins to sound more like the former and less like the latter.

    And I'm not just reacting to this phrasing in isolation; unfortunately there's a larger trend among people (rightly) advocating for fathers to be more involved in their children's lives of (wrongly) suggesting or outright stating that families without fathers are inferior, regrettable arrangements to be prevented. All I ask is that people remember these families and avoid inadvertently disrespecting them in the name of promoting fatherhood.
    posted by cloudburst at 7:11 PM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


    How about "every child needs exposure to male role models" or whatever framing doesn't use the specific word that bothers you? I was raised without a father, and with barely any male figures in my life, I grew up having skewed ideas of what manhood should look like. (And I'm a woman, so while it doesn't impact my identity, it does impact my relationships with the men in my life and with the world in general, so... kinda important.) I think it's fine that kids may grow up without a dad... but I do think it's important that they have exposure to appropriate male role models, and I think it's important to be able to talk about that.
    posted by palomar at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


    -So, just throwing this out there but... you know, it's not the most fun thing to read about how critical fathers are to child development when you're a woman having children with her wife, who will have no father, and whose development will be just fine, thanks. If you wouldn't say "Every child needs a mother and a father," maybe rethink using (or endorsing) this kind of phrasing.

    --I think there's a difference between saying "every child needs a father" and "it's valuable and important for men to be involved in parenting."


    I would go with, "Every child who DOES have a father should have one who knows how not to make said child miserable in the name of gender essentialism." Or even substitute "male role model" for "father."
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:25 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


    I would agree that it's good for a boy to have a male role model of some sort, even if it's not his father. My parents divorced when I was 6, and I grew up with my mother and my older sister. In a lot of ways, I'm really grateful for the environment I grew up in - I was exposed to feminism from a very young age, and I grew up with a perspective on girls and women that I might not have had otherwise.

    However, I also had no idea how to express myself as a guy. My dad lived far away, and I didn't see him enough to learn the subtle stuff that goes into "manliness." At school, I was teased, constantly, because of how girly I was. I mean, who knows, I could have turned out girly anyway. But the point is, I had no idea how to relate to people as who I was expected to be. Everyone - classmates, my family - thought I was gay, and this came up all the time. I'm not gay, but I used to think I must be, only because I couldn't go anywhere without hearing about how gay I was. In high school I ended up forcing myself to learn how to behave a certain way, just so people would stop seeing me as something I was not.

    My family - the loving, feminist family - had no perspective on any of this, because these sorts of pressures to conform as a boy, and as a man, were something they'd never faced. It's awful that men have to conform to these standards of being a capital-M Man, but that's the way it is. I don't think my family was inferior, and I think I turned out pretty well. I do wish I'd had more of a male role model to look up to - and emulate.
    posted by teponaztli at 7:31 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


    In one study, researchers showed children between the ages of four and six slides illustrating different emotions. They videotaped the children’s faces looking at the slides. Then the child’s mother would watch the child’s face, and she had to identify which slide the child was viewing. Was it an angry face, or a sad one, or happy, etc. Mothers could accurately identify what their sons and daughters, at the age of four, were seeing. As the children got older, though, the mother’s accuracy with the boys went down, until at six years of age she could not identify the emotions in her son’s face. Why? Because in preschool and kindergarten, boys receive peer group influence from other boys who have been told by their fathers to “man up” and don’t cry. Those boys then punish the boys who deviate from these gender norms. Through this socialization, boys learn that expressing emotion is feminine or gay, that it’s bad, that they shouldn’t do it. This, I fear, is not changing that much in school.

    I think I can relate to this. I wonder what it would look like to do that test with father's too, because I also lost the ability to emotionally communicate with him at that age. I spent most of my time in elementary school extremely miserable and without any language to communicate it. Everything worked out once I had the maturity and intelligence to communicate on a level they could understand, but when I lacked it...I just don't understand why they couldn't see how miserable I was almost every single day for several years.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


    (And the issue with me went a bit further than "Don't cry," because I know if I had cried one day the result would have been my parent's went to the school, yelled a bit...and then everything would be back to normal the next day. I didn't avoid crying because it was unmanly, but because it was pointless. Consolation was not helpful. I really never learned to come to terms with my experiences with bullying until Taylor in Worm, that story helped me out emotionally and psychologically so much. I've never read about any character that I related to more in my life.)
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:44 PM on March 20, 2015


    I once asked the men on a predominantly-male mailing list I was on "How many of you have ever cried in another man's arms?"

    This is an awesome sentence! It's one of those questions that illuminates, to both the asker and the asked, the nature of the cultural divide between them, and hints at what life must be like for the other. The world needs more questions like this.
    posted by Jpfed at 10:50 PM on March 20, 2015


    A view, maybe, from a better future:

    My four year old son is in the developmental preschool (preschool for kids with special needs) in our district for some mild-to-moderate motor and coordination delays. A solid half of the kids in his class are on the autism spectrum. He is continually being praised for the connection he has to his emotions, for his ability to name and express his feelings, and for the care and concern he shows to others -- he actually won an award for it last year. Now, certainly a big part of this is that it is really helpful to many of the other children in the classroom to have a good model for emotional relatability, but he has clearly internalized that this is a valued thing to be able to do. He came out from his bath a few hours ago and climbed up in my lap and said "I love you, Mommy. I want to give you one hundred kisses." *smack* "One." *smack* "Two." *smack* "Three." I had to stop him at twenty-six because he had to get his pajamas on.

    He has a really low frustration tolerance and will melt down like crazy if his train tracks won't connect or if the birds in Teaching Angry Birds to Fly in Different Directions (Angry Birds Space) don't do what he wants them to, but even then, if you say "buddy, hey! What's the matter?" he says "I am so angry and so frustrated and so sad because this won't work! The birds are not flying in the way to hit this pig like I am telling them to! It makes me so mad! I need a hug and my blanket!"

    I love his school for seeing this value in him and encouraging it. My husband is very emotionally hands-on with both kids, too; we both talk with them about feelings a lot, but to me, there is a special value in having my son be able to go to his father with an emotional need and get that need met, instead of having his father model for him that this is a woman thing. We're only four years into this experiment, but so far, yields are good.
    posted by KathrynT at 11:56 PM on March 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


    First, looking at the links and reading the comments here, it makes me feel incredibly lucky that my father was consciously trying to not be the distant, Eisenhower-era father that he grew up with. I grew up with hugs and open emotional caring being normal, and it was nice. I think that kind of fathering is becoming more and more normal -- all of my friends with boys are raising them this way, which is wonderful to see and to be a (very small) part of.

    That's a tragedy, to me. That's terrible. Men should be able to turn to one another for comfort

    My experience is that men do a lot of this, but usually without the hugging and crying. I work in a very male field, and because the work is physically dangerous and requires really close teamwork, anyone who is an asshole or can't communicate well gets weeded out very quickly. Something that I wouldn't have expected before going into this field is how much emotional processing and care we are always doing for each other -- what probably looks super macho and old-school on the outside actually requires intense emotional connectivity and sensitivity. I've read the same thing about hotshot fire crews and military units -- because so much trust is required for the work and they spend so many hours together, there is a lot of emotional openness that goes counter to the macho stereotypes.

    I also think this women=heart and hearth, men=money and guns view of partnerships is behind that jawdropping question people ask about gay relationships, "Which one is the wife?" Because, after all, without a wife -- without someone providing the emotional support and space for domestic tranquility and rest -- how can you even have a relationship, right?

    On the rare occasions when I have heard someone ask that question, they weren't talking about who did the emotional processing -- it's a very direct way to say "I wonder who takes it up the ass?"
    posted by Dip Flash at 12:15 AM on March 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


    As a boy I was fairly sensitive. I'm not certain how much this affected by my sudden immersion in a public school system, but by the time I went to college I rarely cried. I remember hearing about an FTM who found that his personality changed after taking hormones. He literally would make himself lie on the bed and cry, knowing from his experiences as a woman that this was a way to stay healthy again. But he had to force himself to do it as it no longer came naturally.

    I do my best not to instill gender notions into my kid. Without any prompting he is obsessed with trains and cars, and I take total responsibility for his love of Star Wars. He has shown no interest in princesses. I wonder if loving trains is a boy thing or if all kids would like them but girls are subtly pushed in other directions, like with the new Lego sets for girls.

    As a man, I do find myself wondering about my value as a man, especially now that I I have a house I am mostly incapable of repairing. My dad was never into the traditional manly pursuits and so I find myself lost when it comes to things like car repair and maintenance, plumbing, home repair. I find myself in what I feel is the incredibly awkward position of not being able to do the work myself, nor earning enough that it isn't a big deal when I pay others to do it for me.

    I am not a bro nor even remotely bro-like but still find myself pained by this, as if I cannot actually provide for my family on my own.

    So I try to, as best as I can, to raise my son to be gentle, kind, and loving, but also hopefully with a good grounding in the "manly" skills I am only just learning now so that he can sidestep these feelings of awkwardness.
    posted by Deathalicious at 11:19 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


    As a man, I do find myself wondering about my value as a man, especially now that I I have a house I am mostly incapable of repairing. My dad was never into the traditional manly pursuits and so I find myself lost when it comes to things like car repair and maintenance, plumbing, home repair. I find myself in what I feel is the incredibly awkward position of not being able to do the work myself, nor earning enough that it isn't a big deal when I pay others to do it for me.

    Interesting, this rings so true to my experience with my partner. We both tend to excel at opposite-gender stuff and be weaker with the stuff our gender roles would prescribe, so these issues come up a lot. He doesn't have much interest in those sorts of repair & maintenance problems, but I love that stuff and I'm usually the one to try to address any issues. We've had some friction about this in the past because he clearly feels that the car and house stuff should be in his wheelhouse, but he doesn't actually have the interest, so he sometimes resents it when I'm the one who ends up fixing things.

    It's silly because he's incredibly skilled at lots of other stuff, he's about a million times better with kids (and people in general) than I am, and he absolutely contributes and supports us in myriad ways. But those lingering traditional notions of masculinity make him feel like he's falling short somehow just because he doesn't excel at those particular skills, and even though he grew up in a very progressive family and environment. Likewise, I end up feeling a little bad when I fix the car because I feel like I'm taking something away from him somehow. Given how much better he is with kids than I am, it'll be interesting to see that dynamic reverse if we decide to have kids; will he feel bad for being so great at traditionally "feminine" skills, and will I feel weird or resentful because that stuff doesn't come as easily to me?

    I guess I'd be happiest if everyone's sons and daughters grew up feeling OK about situations like this, where nobody would feel weird and devalued if their wife was the one to fix the car, or whatever the vice-versa situation would be.
    posted by dialetheia at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


    I wonder if loving trains is a boy thing or if all kids would like them but girls are subtly pushed in other directions, like with the new Lego sets for girls.

    There are studies of gender that show that we treat infants we're told are male differently from infants we're told are female, that this continues into toddlerdom (presumed-female children are helped more quickly when they struggle, for example) and beyond. By the time a child can speak, they have already received a ton of information about what is expected of them and how they are supposed to behave. This clearly isn't 100% - the amount of evidence that people defy gender expectations is enough to show that - but the influence and pressure is clear. I know that my feminist, psychologically savvy mom who taught me gender theory using the Smurfs still bought the science and tech stuff for my brother, and the computer was his; this sort of thing is nearly all unconscious and a lot of it is based on internalized expectations.

    I would love to support men in their learning how to show gentleness, compassion, and love for other men who are also struggling with these internalized expectations; I think it's the only way to heal those wounds and to eventually, hopefully, stop inflicting them on people.
    posted by Deoridhe at 4:30 PM on March 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


    I often think men are doomed to never having the kind of friendships women have and then I remember a lovely (utterly true) story I tell and the response it gets.

    A very, very dear friend of mine "James" lost his partner "Jonathan" suddenly in a plane crash a number of years ago. They were utterly in love. James was waiting in a bar for Jonathan to return home for Christmas from an overseas work trip. James was bereft.

    James' best friend "Alexander", a happily married straight man, came over that night, climbed in to bed with James and held him all through the night as James cried for his lost love.

    I've told a lot of people that (anonymised) story. Women say, "Oh, that's so beautiful, more men should have that kind of friendship. I'd do that for my girlfriends", and men I recount it to look at me with a wistful look. No man has ever said anything homophobic or negative. They have all seemed like they wish they'd been able to be held all night long by their best friend in similar circumstances.

    This has become the gold standard of male friendship to me, and I hope society nourishes more like it.

    I'd climb in to bed to hold any of my friends in grief, it's one of the small privileges of being a woman. I could face some teasing and innuendo if it were with a man, but neither of us would be frightened of societal backlash. Women (in my circle anyway) regularly share beds on weekends away so nobody much bats an eyelid at that. Patriarchy harms men yet again.

    But yeah, men should hold their friends. If the only holding you ever get is sexual or parental, it's not enough. Society should demand men hug each other. It makes the world a better place. And every man deserves an Alexander moment.

    (I'm tearing up all over again just remembering it.)
    posted by taff at 3:49 AM on March 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


    Society should demand men hug each other

    For what it's worth this is utterly silly, imo. A society that not only demands intimacies from its members but prescribes the manner in which those intimacies are to be demonstrated isn't more desirable than a society that forbids such intimacies, less so, probably, in the opinion of some. What's desirable, imo, is a society that permits everyone to come to their own "Alexander moment" in their own way and on their own negotiated terms and still respects those who maybe can't abide or don't want that degree of intimacy with another.
    posted by octobersurprise at 7:02 AM on March 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


    Mea culpa. Society should demand consenting men hug each other. And who knows, in a few generations the very idea of it might not make anyone bristle.
    posted by taff at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    boys who have been told by their fathers to “man up” and don’t cry

    I'm quoting this particular instance here, but there are numerous other examples above. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that mothers don't do this as much as or more than fathers.

    Similarly:

    it's good for a boy to have a male role model of some sort

    It's good for ALL children to have a male role model - fathers/male role models are not just for boys!
    posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:45 PM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    I've been trying to find a way for my teenage nephew to understand more about gender than what he's been getting from MRA sites. Thank you very much, divined by radio, for this wonderful post.
    posted by goofyfoot at 7:02 PM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Yeah, as a woman I know I certainly could have done with some positive adult male influence in my childhood.
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:25 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


    It's an interesting thing, this idea of positive male influences and role models. On the one hand it definitely seems like a solution to part of the problem. I don't recall anyone in my life explicitly saying men should behave this way and not that way, but I'm sure I picked up such notions anyway just by observing.

    On the other hand, the need to differentiate male influences from just plain influences also seems like a symptom of the problem. For this to be a permanent need, there would have to be a significant amount of stuff that is unique to the "male experience" due to unchangeable factors, like pure biology. There are such factors, but the list of them seems vanishingly small to me.

    So I think what we get is a solution that leads to the inevitable elimination of itself if it's successful. Which seems OK, really.
    posted by FishBike at 8:25 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Arizona lost their NCAA tournament game just now and 2 or 3 players were upset, one guy was visibly crying and saying I'm sorry and the other players, and some coaches, were hugging and comforting them. On live television, with millions watching. So interesting.
    posted by cashman at 5:29 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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