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.

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
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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.

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.

Book Review: The Way of the Superior Man

Carrying around a book with a title like this might lead people to think I’m a narcissist. So I leave the book at home.

The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida has some good points, and some significant problems. It’s billed as a spiritual guide, but I found its spirituality to be over the top. Then again, I’m an atheist, so take that for what it’s worth.

Deida sets the standards for manhood quite high, to the point where keeping up could feel like you’re putting on a show. He also promotes simplistic stereotypes. It’s not as bad as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but it’s not much better. The worst example is chapter 28, which informs us that “each woman has a ‘temperature.'” Deida explains that, “In general, blonde, light-skinned, Japanese, and Chinese women are cooler. Dark skinned, brunette, redheaded, Korean, and Polynesian women are hotter.”

But Deida’s book does have some important insights. These insights also can apply to how women should treat men, though Deida is writing for men.

These include:

  • Don’t analyze your woman: She wants to feel loved, not picked apart.
  • Don’t tell a woman that she needs to fix her emotional problems: It’s her prerogative to make that decision on her own. Nor does a woman need a man to fix her problems for her. Instead, he should do everything he can to support her while she takes responsibility for her own issues. But if she chooses not to address her issues, and if these issues make a good relationship impossible, then he should leave her.
  • Stay with her intensity – to a point: When someone gets really emotional it’s easy to either sucked into the psychodrama or to withdraw from it (“We can talk about this when you’re not acting so crazy”). But Deida writes that, like “surfing ocean waves, mastery involves blending with your woman’s powerful energy and feeling the rise and fall of the moment.” And a man can do this “by standing your ground and loving so strongly that only love prevails.”
  • Don’t force her to make decisions: To do this is to abandon your responsibility and accountability.

Male Stoicism, Traditionalism & Progressivism

Stoicism’s core idea is straightforward: you can’t control anything except yourself, so don’t sweat the rest of it. Stoicism appealed to Roman soldiers who had little control over their lives but faced great danger. And some took Stoicism to the extreme of subjecting themselves to great pain without flinching. That’s Stoicism’s dark side.

Problem is, emotions happen. Repressing our emotions only causes them to rear their heads elsewhere, and in unexpected ways. It’s better to accept our lack of control over experiencing emotions and instead focus on controlling our reactions to these emotions.

But the world over, men are honored for their ability to endure physical and emotional pain without flinching. Men who show their vulnerability or who cannot endure pain are mocked and despised by women and men alike.

One perspective is that society teaches male pain endurance while disallowing expression of vulnerability as a way of training boys to become men capable of fighting in a war. A boy’s training may consist of enduring sports injuries; being bullied; learning never to cry; and hazing in the military, fraternities, and the workplace.

Male Stoicism has been challenged in recent years, however. Feminism rejected the narrow traditional female role and fought to make it more expansive and less rigid. And this changed the traditional male role by proxy: women need men to accommodate and support a less rigid gender role for women. Feminism also connected male insensitivity toward pain to men’s violence toward women. Further, second and third wave feminism have mostly been anti-war, thus opposing the push to socialize men as warriors.

Flexibility for the male role in ways that are not needed to accommodate an expanded female role, however, hasn’t been pursued to the same degree. But this creates a double bind. A man must know (without being told) when to adhere to the traditional male role, and when to step outside of the traditional male role to accommodate women.

This ethos has been integrated into progressive politics and ideology. For example, men must support women with greater emotional openness. But emotional openness that doesn’t reflect positively on women (such as a man talking about a woman’s controlling or abusive behavior) is taboo. This also applies to discussion of issues that don’t directly affect women, such as dads being treated like they’re disposable, boys falling behind in school, or male suicide being three to four times more common than female suicide.

As such, both traditionalism and progressivism promote male Stoicism to varying degrees. Feminists and progressives quickly put the kibosh on men who are emotionally open in the wrong way, sarcastically asking, “what about the menz?”, declaring that they “bathe in male tears,” or smuggly lamenting “masculinity so fragile.”

Traditionalists will tell a man to stop acting like a girl. Progressives don’t say that because it’s misogynist, but the intent of saying “don’t act like a girl” and “I bathe in male tears” is the same: they silence men’s emotional expression.

At least traditionalists are straightforward about it. But progressives are often passive-aggressive. They deny they’re promoting male Stoicism or being insensitive to men’s feelings. They claim that bathing in male tears is ironic. And it is ironic because it represents feminism and patriarchy being on the same page, though they fail to see that irony.

Considering this insensitivity toward men, how can we expect men to be more sensitive toward women? More to the point, if we only value men insofar as their actions affect women then how can we expect men to value themselves for who they are?

Yet, the advice that men simply need to open up is simplistic. To change society so that men feel more comfortable opening up we must:

  • First must recognize early 21st century expectations for male Stoicism, how both traditionalism and progressivism contribute to it, and how progressivism has worked to partially dismantle it.
  • Articulate the problem in order to challenge it.
  • Increase societal support for open male communication, even when it means looking male vulnerability in the eye and not putting women on a pedestal.

At the individual level, I’m trying to set the unhelpful aspects of Stoicism aside by:

  • Being honest about what I’m feeling even if I wish I didn’t feel that way, and even if someone else doesn’t want to hear it.
  • Articulating the emotion in a calm, matter of fact way. Though it’s a cliche, stating things in the first person (“I feel…”) is important for personal responsibility. Saying, “You made me feel…,” blames the other person.
  • Following up with a statement of my needs or wants in a way that respects other people’s boundaries, and without the expectation that others will respect my needs (because at some point my needs will be mocked).
  • Refusing to be treated like a doormat. Others might not respect my needs, but I can still set boundaries.
  • Recognizing the value of Stoicism’s message of chilling out when I lack of control over external things, even if the aspect of detaching from my emotional experiences or silently enduring pain as a path to self-discipline is not valuable.

The Mask You Live In: A Documentary Review

The Mask You Live In is the second documentary by the Representation ProjectMask “follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.”

maskReleased in January 2015, it’s still hard to find in many places. But like its sister Miss Representation, Mask eventually will be available on DVD or streaming. The screening in my area was sponsored by a local organization called Maine Boys to Men, whose mission is to “support the happy, healthy, non-violent development of boys and those who help raise them.”

Mask hits the ground running with the gravelly voice of former NFL defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann, who remembers his father teaching him (at five years of age) to be a man – tough and stoic. And what Ehrmann details can only be described as child abuse.

Mask then informs us that gender is a social construct, noting that males and females psychologically are 90% similar. Of course, some may challenge the notion that gender is not biologically innate, but Mask is focusing on gender roles rather than gender identity.

Culture certainly looms large. The interviews with various psychologists, teachers, and ordinary men and women detail American society’s definition of a real man: powerful, dominating, wealthy, and promiscuous. But above all, not weak. Not like a girl.

Educator Tony Porter talks about a boy who said he’d feel destroyed if his coach said he played like a girl. Porter asks, What are we teaching our boys? What are we teaching our girls?

Mask advocates for a less rigid definition of masculinity. One that encourages greater emotional expression and openness for boys and men, thereby discouraging violence and destructive behaviors.

The film observes that a rigid definition of masculinity means boys and men constantly have to prove their manhood. But a man can never definitively prove his manhood because every new challenge threatens a loss of this identity.

This can lead to extreme behaviors, or what the film calls hypermasculinity. Most notable is men’s violence, which Mask illustrates with statistics, and clips from popular action movies and violent video games.

The film’s biggest impact, however, is the everyday boys and young men who tell their stories and talk about how they really feel. Teacher Ashanti Branch runs a support group for teenage boys. The film shows him leading an exercise where boys draw a mask on a piece of paper. On the front they describe how other people see them. On the back they write how they really feel. Then they crumple the papers and throw them at each other. Opening up someone else’s mask, each boy reads what’s on the outside, and what’s on the inside.

The funny, nonchalant, and cocky personas turn into sadness, anger, social isolation, and low self-worth. It’s a painful place to go. But Branch’s Ever Forward Club claims that 100% of the kids in this program (many of whom are from low income families) graduate from high school, and 93% go on to college.

Mask is full of boys and young men who confess that they feel like they could never measure up to the image of a “real man.” They describe their loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger. They describe coping with alcohol, drugs, and risky behavior. But they play the game because not doing so means being socially ostracized, bullied, and rejected.

For some there’s a larger price, however. In a prison support group, inmates describe horrifically abusive childhoods, and joining gangs because they craved a sense of belonging.

Mask describes gender socialization as beginning the moment boys and girls are brought home from the hospital, dressed in blue or pink, and given gender specific toys. Still, little boys are often as emotionally expressive as little girls. When puberty arrives, however, male friendships cease to have the same level of emotional connection because boys try to conform to the emotionally independent requirement of manhood. And so they don’t look gay. But with this emotional isolation we find an enormously higher suicide rate among boys.

The film also profiles several boys and men who grew up without fathers. Luis’s father was deported, and Luis got involved with a gang because he craved male role models. Cody’s dad was in prison for much of his childhood. Steven never had a father figure but later became a single dad. And an awesome dad at that.

Interspersed throughout the clips is a sea of statistics. The film could use a thorough fact checking, however. For example, Mask uncritically presents the unscientific statistic that 35% of men would commit rape if they thought they could get away with it. The claim is based on a non-representative, non-random sample that is too small (only 86 men) to draw any statistically significant conclusion. But this follows along with the film’s claim that the United States is a rape culture (the belief that American culture encourages men to rape women). Though this is debatable, it’s presented without any counterpoint.

I also would have preferred the film to explore the larger systemic issues of fatherlessness. Further, though Mask discusses father wounds, the issue of mother wounds is absent.

Also absent is any discussion of how girls and women’s expectations of men can marginalize less stereotypically masculine men, and encourage male silence. Likewise, men’s violence against women is discussed at length, but women’s violence against boys and men, and women’s not uncommon desire for control over males, is barely mentioned.

The most jarring omission, however, is that male disposability is never acknowledged or even alluded to. Yet, a culture that makes a global issue of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of girls while completely ignoring the group’s mass murder of boys (because they are boys) illustrates how little society values the lives of boys and men relative to girls and women.

Despite these flaws, Mask is a powerfully moving film that had a strong effect on the audience. The discussion after the film showed its impact. A grandmother commented that she thought boys had it easy, but now she’s seeing a different side of things. A young man said he just found out that he has a son on the way, and is joining the Maine Boys to Men new father’s program.

Though the dialogue about problems boys and men face so far has barely reached the mainstream, The Mask You Live In presents an excellent opportunity to spark a national conversation.