Men’s Silence

Silent doesn’t mean taciturn. A man might talk endlessly, constantly interrupting others. But all he does is tell jokes and talk about sports and politics. No one really knows what’s going on inside him.

Men’s silence is often socially enforced. The call to “man up” and the meme “I bathe in male tears” discourage men from showing their vulnerability. Perhaps that’s why Mad Men‘s Don Draper tries so hard to avoid dealing with his troubled childhood. An ad exec, Don is the archetype of strong and silent. Changing his name from Dick Whitman is symbolic of his inner disconnection, and Mad Men is a chronicle of the external consequences.

Don is a hard man to like. He’s a womanizer and alcoholic who leaves a trail of broken relationships. Raised an unloved orphan, his first sexual experience as a boy with an older woman would have been called statutory rape if it had happened to a girl at the hands of a man. How did this contribute to his future womanizing? Could it be that he’s not so much a chauvinist as he is a man struggling with the power women have over him?

Don doesn’t think to ask these questions, and even if he did he might be told to quit his whining. He’d be shoved back into silence.

In Invisible Men, Michael Addis describes three types of silence: Personal silence is a lack of self-awareness. Private silence is when you know how you feel but choose to keep it to yourself. And public silence is when you try to open up to others but are shot down, often in subtle ways.

Don’s silence is internal and lacking self-awareness. In the final season he takes off without saying a word to anyone. Winding up at a hippie retreat in California, he’s initially resistant to all the touchy-feely stuff but ends up calling his coworker Peggy on the verge of tears, struggling to reevaluate his life. Then in group therapy a man talks about his feelings of invisibility. Shocking everyone, Don hugs the man.

Most men must struggle with the double bind of being told that showing vulnerability is a weakness, and then being blamed for their silence. And there’s often a misguided assumption that men are silent on purpose, to punish their partners.

What does Don do with his new found self-awareness? The final episode ends with the famous 1971 “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” commercial. Does the ad show that Don opens up to others about his need to be valued as a person? Or upon returning to the ad world, does Don bury his emotions again? That’s for you to decide.

Addis notes that people will communicate under the right circumstances, and men are no exception. He writes that masculinity can be viewed as a “transaction between a person and his environment” (his emphasis). That is, fulfilling social expectations to avoid rejection. As such, anger, aggression, posturing, arrogance, and silence can be masks for the deeper issue, such as fear, sadness, anxiety, rejection, and social isolation.

A recent study with men and video games found that men who bully women online often do so because of competition within the male hierarchy (though sexism is also an obvious factor too).

Specifically, women are more attracted to high-status men, and a man’s place in the male hierarchy is heavily influenced by his desirability to women. But low-status men who are outperformed by women fear that they become even less desirable to women, thus pushing these men further down the male hierarchy.

Loss of status is hard for men to deal with because men are already more likely to be socially isolated than women. However, the study doesn’t address why high-status males bully low-status males. Likely it’s enforcement of their higher status in the hierarchy. The same is true for high-status women and girls who bully those of lower status.

It’s true that raising emotionally aware boys could improve things. Teaching empathy is also critical. But empathy for men and boys is just as critical.

The larger issue is societal acceptance and encouragement of men opening up. This means a shift in male culture to something less hierarchical and toward offering support to other men rather than expecting men to resolve their issues independently and silently.

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To Be or Not Be Catholic, and Atheist

The stonework of the vast interior, made to seem even larger by the emptiness of the high, rounded ceiling, creates a cavernous feeling. But the darkness of the stone is interrupted by colorful, translucent light, creating a sense of jeweled infinity beyond the opaque and impenetrable rock. It serves as a visual metaphor of our hope that life, beyond its impenetrable mysteries, is something more. The dark austerity of the daily grind is, we desire, underpinned by something bright and beautiful.

One feels so small and insignificant in a cathedral; and yet, there is intimacy. Watching over the visitors are marbled figures. Some have wings; others have crowns; and there are even those with but simple garb, an unadorned cassock, and serene, knowing expression. They look like us – they have human form – but their strange dress speaks of another world. And their wings, halos, crosses, and crowns tell us that their lives, unlike ours, are anything but ordinary.

These saints, angels, Madonnas, and Christs – whether child, man, or risen Lord – inhabit two worlds: Heaven and Earth. Through these intercessors and intermediaries, the worshipper believes that the promise of rescue from this world through eternal salvation will be granted.

The bright colors and intricate details of the icons frozen in the stained glass windows and painted on the ceiling command the attention of anyone venturing inside. They illustrate the ancient stories we know well – God’s plan for the salvation of the human race as revealed in His Holy Word. The cathedral itself is one giant icon, with the apse at the head, the nave toward the bottom, and the transepts on each side, forming a cross.

Whether a believer or not, the terrible beauty of a cathedral inspires awe. But more so for the believer, for whom the cathedral creates a deep emotional connection to the stories that form her or his worldview.

That worshippers would expend such immense time, energy, and valuable resources to build a cathedral, especially in a time of scarcity such as the Middle Ages, speaks to the power of faith.

Even if such faith is firmly rejected by some, the emotional intensity of this rejection – indeed, the revulsion some might feel – only serves to emphasize the deep chord religious belief strikes in the human heart.

~                      ~                      ~

I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for almost 20 years.  At age 18 I decided that I couldn’t become a priest because I didn’t have the absolute certainty that the infallibility of Catholic doctrine requires. Essential doctrines such as the Trinity, incarnation, and so on can’t be mostly infallible – it’s all or nothing.

I became a non-literalist, continuing a sort-of belief in God, which I thought of as a mythopoetic personification of ultimate reality, whatever that might be; an image human beings created as a stand-in for this giant existential question mark.

Over time I decided that deep mythopoetic thoughts are far less important than the way I choose to live my life, and admitting that really I think materialism is all there is to reality, sealed my fate as an atheist.

Still, being Catholic will always be part of who I am, even if I haven’t gone to church in years.  And constantly rallying against the Catholic Church, which became so much easier after the sexual abuse scandal, can only become destructive because such opposition means fighting a part of who I am.

But being an atheist is a larger part of who I am. And that is why I am not Catholic.

Fashion: Women, Men & the Last 100 Years

How has fashion changed in the past century? Well, office attire for men hasn’t changed much. The suit & tie can’t lose (though offices today are often more casual). On the other hand, women’s office attire has changed a lot.

But what about everyday attire? Youtube channel Glam answers that question.

First up is women’s fashions 1915-2015:

2015

I freeze framed it at 2015 because that’s my favorite. 1995 is number two.

Up next is men’s fashions over the last 100 years:

1945

1945 is my favorite, though I’d be wearing a bow tie.

But I really have to wonder what the hell happened to men’s fashion in the 1970s and ’80s?

One Youtube comment suggested cocaine, which may be accurate.

Identity and Setting Boundaries

There are few things that can send people through the roof more than a perceived attack on their identity. I’ve long observed that my atheism can upset Christians who take my disbelief personally.

Recently, George Takei (Lt. Sulu from the original Star Trek) ruffled feathers when he referred to African-American (and arch-conservative) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as “a clown in black face.” Takei is a gay rights activist, and Thomas dissented from the court’s pro-gay marriage ruling. Implying that Thomas isn’t really black has angered many African-Americans, even if they strongly disagree with Thomas’s politics.

People have reason to feel angry when their identity is attacked. But their anger is misplaced when their insecurities are triggered by someone who is asserting a different identity or viewpoint, but who is not attacking their identity (like Christians who are upset by my open atheism).

A group that has long been marginalized is particularly vulnerable to people failing to respect their boundaries. For example, it’s not surprising that many people don’t think Caitlyn Jenner (née Bruce Jenner) is a real woman.

And it’s not just conservatives. Feminist Elinor Burkett ran a piece in the New York Times asking “what makes a woman?” She doesn’t include transgender women in her identity as a woman.

I think it’s every individual’s right to assert her or his identity, and good boundaries dictate that I have no place questioning others. Jenner identifies as a woman and prefers feminine pronouns, so that’s how I’ll speak of her.

Herein lies the dilemma. I don’t feel like I can tell Ms. Burkett that her identity as a woman has to be more inclusive. But I can say that I would not refer to Jenner as “he” or publicly dispute Jenner’s identity.

However, Burkett brings up a grievance that goes the other way: some transgender activists want to ban the word vagina because not all transgender women have vaginas. Indeed, Mount Holyoke College canceled the Vagina Monologues recently due to such concerns.

Perhaps only a minority of transgender women want to ban the word vagina. Such censorship crosses the line, however, for the same reason that Burkett’s use of “he” when referring to Jenner crosses the line. If a cisgender woman wants to call her body part a vagina then that’s her right we should all respect. It’s not exclusionary toward transgender women, it’s just a cisgender woman referring to her own body as she chooses.

But what to do about Rachel Dolezal, the self-identified African-American who was born a blonde white woman?

It’s been amply noted that race and gender are different. Jenner says she doesn’t want to be the opposite sex—she says she was born female with a male body. But Dolezal admits she is white but wants to be black.

The problem is that she wasn’t above board. There may be cases where a person wants to identify with a certain group. And Dolezal, with adopted African-American siblings, a black ex-husband, and a biracial child, has reasons to identify with the African-American community. I must wonder: if she had been open about this, would she have found greater acceptance?

Final example. Peter Moskowitz wrote an op-ed asking heterosexuals to stop overlaying the rainbow flag onto their Facebook profile pics. He feels that he earned the right to wave the rainbow flag after all the homophobia he’s encountered over the years, the social rejections from coming out, not to mention the real danger of physical assault for being gay. Moskowitz asks, “If they were true allies to me or the LGBT community, where were they before Friday?”

It’s a valid question. Of course, no one is trying to co-opt anyone’s identity, nor is Moskowitz saying they are. But he’s concerned that people jumping on the bandwagon after the fact don’t really support his identity as a gay man.

I didn’t change my Facebook profile pic because I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon. Though I have marched in gay pride parades as a social worker as far back as 1996, and voted in favor of LGBT civil rights and marriage equality in Maine.

I’m well aware, however, that I haven’t been through what Moskowitz has. Still, I don’t think rainbow-ifying your Facebook pic is necessarily an infringement, especially for heterosexuals who have supported LGBT rights all along.

The Clothes Make the Man

How you dress often determines how people think of you. I wear bow ties a lot, and walking down the street people will sometimes smile at me. The woman at the cell phone store told me the bow tie is super cute.

 

2014-07-29 12.20.16

A while back I went to a mustache pageant, though I didn’t compete. There’s a lot you can do with a mustache. I decided to go for the bad ass look.

stache pag3 3-2013

Dressed like this, walking down the street is a different experience. People look away. They move aside. A couple guys even crossed the street. It was an uncomfortable experience.

What if I had gone with a pencil mustache and a cravat instead?

Liberals Against Free Speech (But Not Me)

Left leaning students started the free speech movement at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s and faced opposition from conservative administrators who didn’t like what the students had to say. As a child in the 1980s I remember conservative campaigns to ban books that conservatives felt promoted liberal ideals.

But somewhere along the line liberals lost their way. Many liberals still support free speech, but today the anti-free speech crowd has as many liberals as conservatives. And this is a problem because liberals control the nation’s universities and have a big voice in mainstream media. That’s the verdict Kirsten Powers delivers in The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.

The liberal response often focuses on Powers rather than her arguments: She’s not a real liberal. As an (oppositional) commentator on Fox News she’s been brainwashed by her conservative colleagues. She’s a bubble headed blonde. (Which is totally not sexist when a liberal says it.) Also, she’s a Christian, which makes her conservative on one issue: abortion. Ergo, she hates gays and lesbians.

Well, not really. She’s pro-gay marriage. But liberal commentators use the same strategy as Fox News: people won’t question what they want to believe, even when the logic is so strained it could be a comedy skit. After all, some of the same people who scoff at Fox News often watch MSNBC and fail to see the irony.

Like many book titles, The Silencing is melodramatic. Today, you can’t assume that a pro-free speech individual is liberal, or that a pro-censorship person is conservative. And for all the liberal attempts to silence others (mainly on social media and college campuses), they’re (thankfully) having little success.

Perhaps The Bullying would have been a more accurate title. Professor Laura Kipnis was brought up on Title IX charges for writing against trigger warnings and “sexual paranoia” on college campuses. Though her accusers framed exposure to dissenting opinions as harassment, in reality they were harassing Kipnis by hauling her before a board without representation and without a prior verbal or written description of the exact charges against her.

Eventually Kipnis was exonerated. But this was an inquisition, pure and simple. No different from what right winger Joseph McCarthy did in the 1950s. Novelist Judy Blume also compared today’s liberal censorship to yesterday’s right wing censorship.

The experience of professors such as Dr. Janice Fiamengo, her lecture interrupted by students determined to silence her, is increasingly common. A Sun News (Canada) interview with Fiamengo illustrates the authoritarian approach that is increasingly common on college campuses. Fiamengo was going to deliver a lecture questioning the claim that the Western world is a rape culture (that North American and European culture tacitly promote and condone rape). To campus liberals, however, the existence of rape culture is to be believed and not questioned.

Which reminds me of 8th and 9th grade, when I attended a school run by the evangelical and Pentecostal Assembly of God church. Much of what they taught was to be believed and not questioned. But thankfully, there are groups such as FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which act as a watchdog group and advocates for free speech at universities.

I no longer call myself a liberal, not because my views on civil liberties have changed (though economically I can’t say I agree with either Democrats or Republicans, who are both corporatist but in different ways). But I remain anti-authoritarian, pro-civil liberties (including free speech, that guarantee that you will be offended at some point), and skeptical of ideological excess.

Which Accent Has the Worst Reputation?

Most of us are familiar with the BBC accent, the more refined version of which is sometimes called posh. It’s long been the standard for the British Broadcasting Corporation. But if you listen to the BBC today, you’ll hear a variety of UK accents (in the US, NPR sometimes broadcasts BBC News).

Some accents are stigmatized, associated with a lack of education or criminality. But featuring a variety of accents might reduce negative attitudes. As long as someone speaks clearly and uses correct grammar the accent shouldn’t matter.

What we in America sometimes call neutral or general American is associated with the evening news. But it’s not actually a neutral accent. People from the upper Midwest (like Tom Brokaw) sometimes say they have no accent. For whatever reason, that accent is the basis (with some alterations) of the so-called neutral American accent.

Other accents haven’t fared so well. If you want to imitate a stupid person, talk in a Southern accent. If you want to imitate a criminal, use a New York accent.

I previously wrote that the Southern accent is derived from a now extinct (and stigmatized) dialect from early 1600s Sussex, England. Dialect is not merely about geography. It’s also about time (that is, it changes over time). And it’s about social class.

But contrary to popular perception, regional dialects are not dying. Instead, language is constantly changing, so young folks don’t sound exactly like their grandparents. Regional differences still abound, however.

I’d like to see American broadcasters drop the fetish for neutrality and embrace speakers of all American accents.