Dia de los muertos

We would not be here were it not for those who went before us.

I was at an October Día de los Muertos event in Arizona when my phone rang. The Day of the Dead is an ancient Aztec holiday honoring those who have gone before us. Historically celebrated in August, the holiday was moved to coincide with All Saints’ Day when Catholicism took over. A similar process happened with the Celtic holiday Samhain. The evening before All Saints’ Day, or Hallowmas, became known as Halloween.

But Día de los Muertos is not Halloween. The Day of the Dead isn’t about scary ghosts. Though painted skulls are ubiquitous at Day of the Dead events, the purpose is to show reverence for the dead.

My father couldn’t talk long. He had a lot of phone calls to make. He told me that my grandfather had died an hour ago. It did not come as a surprise. He was 95 years old and had been in failing health for the past few months.

How you feel when told that someone close to you has died is revealing. My grandfather, whom I called Pepere (pronounced “pepay”) was my last grandparent. My mother’s father died over a decade ago, and that was cause for great sadness for me. He was a quiet, decent, hardworking man whose latter years were stolen by Alzheimer’s. Both of my grandmothers died a year later, and my childhood memories of time spent with them were replaced with an empty space.

When I learned that Pepere had died I felt a sense of relief, but not sadness. His declining health caused him great suffering, and now that was over. But I never felt as close to him as I did to my other grandparents.

The eighth of eighteen children—all born to the same woman and man—his childhood was one of work. A native French speaker who grew up on Maine’s Canadian border, he quit school after seventh grade to help support the family. After a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps—a New Deal program to put young men to work—he served in the United States Navy throughout the entirety of World War II. After the war he married, had four children, and owned a grocery store.

Fathers from his generation were not known for close relationships with their children, especially their sons. But most modern fathers, including my father, have chosen to be emotionally available.

I can’t say I ever really knew who my grandfather was deep down. I’m not sure if he knew. It’s all in the past now. But were it not for those who went before me, I would not be here.

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The future of men, according to Jack Myers

Jack Myers has written a book about The Future of Men. And – spoiler alert! – the future of men is women.

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Lincolnville, Maine

Myers writes that male dominance is giving way to female dominance, and men must recognize and respect this. But I question whether one gender must be dominant – isn’t challenging the notion of dominance what equality is all about?

Myers makes his progressive viewpoint clear in the first line of his book, where he declares that, “The male gender as a whole is afflicted by an inborn sense of power and dominance over women that has existed since the caveman.”

He goes on to describe the “shrinking number of heterosexual men who are emotionally functional,” writing that “women view men as helpless and hopeless.”

In contrast, “A woman’s power is in her intuition, experience, common sense, and her inherent desire to collaborate rather than fight. When women say ‘I understand’ they mostly do (unlike men, who are often clueless but won’t admit it).”

Myers supports this view of gender with several quotes from Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men,” which was published in the Atlantic in June 2010 and later turned into a book.

His gender essentialism is clear. He follows up his assertions about men’s “inborn” and women’s “inherent” characteristics by stating that, “It’s a genetic reality that men are a confused gender.” This, Myers tells us, is backed up by geneticist Bryan Sykes, who says that the Y chromosome is a genetic wasteland.

What’s a man to do?

Myers believes men have much to learn from women. In his chapter on how men can adapt to the new world he advises men to learn to multitask, admit mistakes and tell the truth, learn to ask for help, pay attention to details, show concern for coworkers, think about other people’s feelings, and use more words to communicate.

The progressive narrative of “men bad, women good” sells. After all, promoting derogatory stereotypes is only politically incorrect when it’s directed at certain groups.

And putting women on a pedestal is only considered sexist in specific circumstances. Portraying women as naive or saying women are too delicate to do dangerous jobs like firefighting is sexist. But saying women are smarter, more honest, and more competent than men is not sexist.

Despite Myers’ pandering to feminism, I’m doubtful that most feminists will be impressed. I’m guessing they’ll see right through it.

My op-ed in the Portland Press Herald

Healthy masculinity and femininity reflect our shared humanity by Dave DuBay.

When yet another mass shooting or sexual assault makes headlines, we talk about the role of guns, religion and alcohol. Perhaps because most men aren’t violent, what we don’t talk about is the fact that most violence is committed by men. It’s an uncomfortable conversation…Read more.

2016’s most important men’s book

Philip Zimbardo & Nikita Coulombe step outside the box and offer real solutions.

Philip Zimbardo’s 2011 TED Talk “The demise of guys” became a short IMG_0481
ebook
by the same title. And with coauthor Nikita Coulombe it’s now a full length book called Man Interrupted.

Zimbardo is best known for the Stanford prison experiment where he found that social situations have a far greater effect on behavior than most of us think.

In Man Interrupted, Zimbardo & Coulombe look at challenges facing young men today, and how societal changes contribute to this.


Notice that these are symptoms, not causes. 


The book has three parts: symptoms, causes, and solutions. Symptoms include excessive porn and video game use, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, and opting out of the workforce. Notice that these are symptoms, not causes.

The causes are absent dads, failing schools, environmental changes, technology enabling arousal addiction, and entitlement versus reality.

Let’s dig a little deeper before I get to their solutions. First, they note that human behavior is complex, and simple explanations won’t do – especially pejorative explanations.

How does a young man contend with female dominated schools that are biased against boys, environmental factors that reduce testosterone levels, a culture that recognizes women’s needs while ignoring men’s needs, and a poor job market? And what if he has no father or male mentor to guide him?

We can judge the easy escape of violent video games and readily available pornography (which fails to depict real sexuality). Or we can try to empathize and support him.


Boys need men – especially fathers – as mentors.


“Knowing that they’re needed motivates [men], and they want respect from…other men.” But Zimbardo & Coulombe emphasize that “respect needs to come from doing pro-social things that make life better…not…from out-drinking their buddies or doing some stupid shit.” But to accomplish this boys need men – especially fathers – as mentors.

Instead, society is alienating young men by devaluing fathers, with a political atmosphere that puts women on a pedestal while ignoring or even mocking men’s concerns, and mass media portraying men as buffoons while also encouraging male entitlement.

Referencing Erik Erikson‘s psycho-social development theory, they note that Western society’s distorted ideals often short-circuit the adolescent task of balancing the ideal self with reality. Anger and entitlement rise when we fail “to come to terms with the fact that we are no more special than anyone else.”

For grown men this discrepancy can be heartbreaking. Often a father’s value is more about finances than love. But compared to mothers, twice as many fathers wish they could spend more time with their children.


“Men’s friendships are based on what abilities they bring to the group – remembering that their life is devalued but their skillsets are not.”


How do we address this? Zimbardo & Coulombe advocate going beyond society’s female-centric conversations, which alienate men. We need to treat father’s rights as equal to mother’s rights. We also need to dispel the myth that mothers or other men can serve as replacements for fathers. We need to make fatherhood a priority.

We also need to acknowledge that men as a group have more power than women, but this power comes with tradeoffs. They quote a soldier’s description of the male gender role: “Men’s friendships among peers in competitive atmospheres are based on what abilities they bring to the group; remembering that their life is devalued but their skillsets are not. Showing concern means that you question their ability.”

That almost four out of five suicides are men and boys – an issue which first appears when puberty begins – should be a wakeup call that something’s wrong. But instead there’s societal indifference.


To “harness the power of young men, society is going to have to care about its young men.”


With a nod to men’s writer Warren Farrell, Zimbardo & Coulombe conclude that true power is about control over your life “and having access to fulfilling personal experiences.” But the traditional male role – earning money for others and dying sooner – doesn’t meet that definition. They warn that “if society wants to harness the constructive power of its young men, society is going to have to care about its young men.”

Now to the solutions. They promote political support for a White House Council on Boys and Men, noting that there’s already one for girls and women. Male mentorship programs are important. There’s also a government Office of Women’s Health, but not for men.

They detail extensive school reforms to help boys succeed. They encourage physical activity rather than medication for ADHD (and learning to dance is a great way to do this).

Boys need better sex education, including discussions about peer pressure, consent, boundaries, and the difference between porn and reality.

Men need to teach boys respect for women through actions as well as words. Boys need to know that it’s not okay to call women sluts or hos, but boys also need to learn to avoid the princess (the entitled woman).

Finally, we need to pressure the media to portray men in a more positive and multifaceted light. Zimbardo & Coulombe advocate a “reverse Bechdel Test” with mature and responsible fathers, honest hard-working men, women valuing men before they becomes heroes, and men who resolve conflicts in creative non-violent ways.

Are women the future of men?

Gender equality is an uncharted course. Men must create a new compass. Women can’t do it for us.

IMG_0525The mainstream media is paying more attention to men’s issues. Jack Myers writes in Time.com that discouraged, angry young men are the “lean out” generation. More women than men are graduating from college, and women are holding more positions of authority. A young man today cannot support a family on his income alone. And among 20-somethings her income might be higher than his.

Masculinity today is at a transition point because the significant shift in women’s status has changed the male role by proxy. Men must walk a tightrope of accepting women’s equality while also living up to men’s and women’s expectations of traditional masculinity.


We need a “new narrative.”


Something’s gotta give. Today’s increasing gender equality is uncharted territory, and men need to create a new compass.

I agree wholeheartedly with Myers that we need a “new narrative that welcomes young men into a truly gender-equal society,” and which avoids “the trap of believing that the future of men is an ‘either, or’ confrontation with the women’s movement.”

He advocates for important changes our culture needs to make:

  • Support paternity leave and value stay-at-home dads (and I’d include promoting equal custody after divorce).
  • Encourage men to enter traditionally feminine careers such as nursing and social work (and, I’d add, encourage women to equally value men who make non-traditional career choices).
  • Advocate for media and entertainment to portray men as “responsible, competent and caring husbands, sons and fathers, instead of idiots and/or misogynists.”
  • Do something about boys falling behind in school.
  • Foster better relationships by opening women’s support programs to men.

Myers adds that we must “no longer accept the outdated mantra that ‘men will be men, and boys will be boys.’” And he calls for zero tolerance of sexism and misogyny. Not only is the “boys will boys” mantra too often used as an excuse for harmful behavior, it also devalues boys and men by setting low expectations.

However, zero tolerance moralism can create defiance. To avoid that, we must get to the root of men’s sexism through compassionate, non-violent communication.

But I don’t advocate Myer’s statement that “the future of men is women.” I think men must resolve men’s issues.


The future of men is men.


The future of men is men – older men mentoring a new generation of young men while also advocating for social change.

Feminism examines gender issues from women’s perspectives, so a male feminist can’t define gender issues or solutions without mansplaining. It also leaves little room for a man to disagree with particular feminist opinions. But this constrains his ability to speak authentically about the male experience.

The men’s rights movement, however, is anti-feminist. I’m not anti-feminist, so my attempts to discuss gender issues and equality from a male point of view place me outside of both feminism and the MRM – which I see as a false dichotomy anyway.

What do young men need? Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe write in Man Interrupted that “knowing that they’re needed motives” men, and what men want most is respect – especially from other men. “But that meaningful respect needs to come from doing pro-social things,” not destructive things like being good at dominating others, drinking, or taking unnecessary risks.

A boy needs a man to guide his energy toward mastery of a pro-social skill.

Jane Fonda & Lilly Tomlin Talk About Female Friendships

…but that’s not what I want to write about. I typically find one or two things that catch my attention, which I use a springboard. Besides, I’m a man and I write about men. And anything I’d have to say about women’s friendships would be like a blurry black-and-white photo while Fonda & Tomlin’s talk is in color and in focus.

If you want to learn about women’s friendships then watch the YouTube video, which I highly recommend. For my tangential thoughts, keep on reading. Or do both.

At one point in the video the host, Pat Mitchell, says that men always seem a bit mystified when the topic of women’s friendships comes up. She asks Jane Fonda about the difference between women’s and men’s friendships.

Fonda says there’s a big difference. That might be a controversial statement in some circles. But in my experience it’s true.

I don’t see men forming close bonds with the same frequency as women. And I personally struggle with getting emotionally close to other men. I find it easier to tell women how I feel. My emotional connection with my closest male friend involves laughing as we do imitations of people we know (in real life or from TV).

At the men’s group I joined a few months ago I’m constantly being asked: You told us what happened, but how do you feel about it? It’s second nature for me to list the facts, as if my life were no different from a geological survey. But the other men there lay their emotional cards on the table. It’s a matter of respect for them that I do the same. But I go blank when trying to open up with them. And they have feelings about the way I hold back from them.

Yet, when Fonda says that women need to have empathy for men because men don’t have the deep friendships women have, the mostly female audience laughs derisively.

Both Fonda and Tomlin seem surprised at that response. I’m not. There are a thousand subsets of feminism, and in my post about male stoicism I noted that feminism has at times encouraged and opposed open emotional expression from men.

A lot of women have been hurt by men, and the need for men to be more empathetic – especially toward women – is a prominent feminist theme. No wonder it took some audience members by surprise when Fonda expressed her view that men need more empathy from women.

But feminists who laugh at the notion of empathy for men are promoting rather than opposing patriarchal values (though probably not intentionally).

When we talk about gender issues we usually mean women’s issues. But we’re not discussing gender issues if we’re focused only on one gender. That’s why Fonda’s comment is important, and why the audience’s response was off key.

Later, Fonda says that “men are born every bit as relational as women are.” What changes? Her perspective is that patriarchal culture teaches boys that to need a relationship is girly. And being girly is absurd because emotional connection is a type of weakness.

Feminists seek to turn that notion on its head. And Fonda clarifies that women’s greater relational skills don’t make women better than men, it’s just that women don’t have to prove their masculinity.

Empathy is about recognizing another person’s shared humanity. As such, anyone who scoffs at empathy for this or that person or group is failing to recognize their shared humanity. And any group or movement that fails to challenge the lack of empathy within its ranks will find its ability to do good compromised one misstep at a time.

The problem is that traditional values such as “suck it up and be a man” means no empathy for men, and that’s taught by showing no empathy for boys. In the parlance of our times, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” But when you show no empathy toward someone that person’s capacity for self-empathy is impaired, and so it’s harder for them to learn how to be empathetic toward others.

But feminism isn’t known for its empathy toward men. The feminist meme “I bathe in male tears” truly is ironic as feminists claim, but the irony is feminist promotion of patriarchal values. But as Jane Fonda shows, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this apparent misandry represents the entire feminist movement.

Final thought. People often ask why we should even talk about men’s issues since men are not oppressed. But I think the oppression question is unhelpful. It’s not that oppression isn’t a serious issue, it’s just that social justice sometimes seems like a one trick pony. If oppression is the only lens to view things through then men must either pretend to be oppressed or have men’s issues ignored. Yet, any social norm that prevents people from reaching their potential is an issue, and because we’re all in this together we can only succeed if we look at the big picture.