No post yesterday. The last time I didn’t post anything on A Year of Guys I was in the hospital, so my fragile male ego was gratified by a concerned email received this morning from my daughter Lissa asking if I was OK. I am fine, but I am working through a particularly busy period of rehearsals, concerts, and associated music production tasks that have taken me to the limit of my physical and mental energy. It’s going to stay busy for another week with five concerts or rehearsals in the next seven days, so I may not be able to muster the energy to post every day through this period.
Another reason that I didn’t write anything yesterday is that I admit to being a little intimidated by the “where are the men” question I posed three days ago. It’s a lot easier to ask the question than provide insightful answers, especially if one is feeling tired.
But I want to wrestle with this a little bit today, as well as provide some of the reading material that got me thinking about the topic. As originally conceived, “where are the men” was a question that reflected upon the diminishing number of men who attend public events such as concerts (rock concerts excepted), plays, lectures, church services, political gatherings, and community events. It quickly morphed into a question about male identity, whether that male identity has any basis in genetics or whether it is largely culturally determined, and how that identity is or is not a felicitous match for certain kinds of activities in the early years of the 21st century.
I first cited an article in the New York Times that discussed the audience composition at Broadway shows. Many more women attend than men, with the exception of gay men who have self-identified as theater-goers. I also found provocative this article on the Huffington Post tilted “Where are the men?”, which was written in response to the publication of the book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by journalist Hanna Rosin. On the Huffington Post article referenced above, toward the bottom, there is concise quasi-PowerPoint presentation called “14 Signs and Consequences of The End of Men” which is worth looking at as it summarizes the major points in the book.
The last part of the presentation is a clip from an interview that Hanna Rosin did on the TV show “Today.” Rosin’s husband David Plotz is also interviewed (looking and sounding somewhat uncomfortable, I thought). The “Today” interviewer starts the interview, appropriately I think, by asking Ms. Rosin if the title of the book isn’t a little bit of an exaggeration. Rosin’s response suggests two things to me: first, that the title is an exaggeration, designed to sell books and get interviews, and second, that the polemicist title does not reflect the intent or contents of the book, which strikes me as basically intelligent, more compassionate than triumphalist, and which can summarized as noting that in the last three or four decades traditional career/work opportunities for men have diminished, while women have proven to be more capable and adaptable in doing what formerly used to be considered “man’s work,” as well as thriving in the professions that have become more available to college graduates, of which women now outnumber men.
Anti-feminist feminist Camille Paglia and Time Magazine team up to create their own polemicist headline in It’s a Man’s World and Always Will Be, which argues that “After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again! Oh, sure, there will be the odd gun-toting Amazonian survivalist gal, who can rustle game out of the bush and feed her flock, but most women and children will be expecting men to scrounge for food and water and to defend the home turf.” “The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!”
Ryan C. MacPherson, in an article titled Beneath the Feminine Mystique: Some Other Problems that Have No Name for the online journal The Family in America, references the work of German psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich who, back in the early 1960s, linked the shaky status of the contemporary “male mystique” to “the disappearance of the father image so closely associated with the roots of our civilization, and of the paternal instructive function.”
Also arguing for the significance of socialization rather than for biologically determined gender differences is Cordelia Fine the author of a New Scientist article titled Biology Doesn’t Justify Gender Divide for Toys (and author of a book called Delusions of Gender: The real science behind sex differences), who notes that “developmental psychologists have found that children are very aware of the importance placed on the social category of gender, and highly motivated to discover what is “for boys” and what is “for girls”. Socialisation isn’t just imposed by others; a child actively self-socialises. Once a child realises (at about 2 to 3 years of age) on which side of the great gender divide they belong, the well-known dynamics of norms, in-group preference and out-group prejudice kick-in.”
The adventure playground movement, described in an article by Hanna Rosin about a playground filled with junk called “The Land” in North Wales, supports the virtues of dangerous play in environments that do not suggest gender stereotyping.
“Where are the men?” Why are men in 2014 less likely to attend a Broadway show, or a lecture in Montpelier, Vermont, than women? It’s a big topic, with arguments both pro and con beginning literally from the moment of conception through to the influence of the recession of 2008.
I think that statistically there are some innate gender differences based on biology. For instance, men will never give birth to, nor provide breast milk for, babies. They can love and care for babies, but they will never have the experience of being a mother. And women who have managed to escape the cultural overlay of “women should act nice” will still tend not to assert themselves in as physical a way as do men, because the male musculature predisposes him to carrying out certain actions in a way that utilizes that musculature.
But for sure, gender identification is a fluid dynamic, variable by family, culture, society, and by physical and emotional environment. It wasn’t so long ago (1990!) that poet/author Robert Bly felt a deficit in natural manliness in the United States. In the preface to the original edition of Iron John: A Book About Men he writes “We are living at an important and fruitful moment now, for it is clear to men that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is thirty-five he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work out in life. Such a man is open to visions of what a man is or could be.” Disconcertingly, Bly writes in the preface to the Da Capo edition that “as we look back, we sense that we are living in a much darker landscape now than the one we felt in 1990. It’s difficult for some people to grasp the amount of darkness that can exist in a father who passes in the church as a good man. Since Iron John was published in 1990 we have seen an extraordinary consolidation of the powers of disorder.”
To “be a man” means to show up for those things that make you feel most vital, most valued, most virtuous. The definition works equally well for women, by the way.
And though we are embarrassed to admit it, Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” still resonates with many men:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
But really, the über-male is non other that baseball great Yogi Berra (1925-), whose off-the-wall sayings make every man proud to be of the scratching and belching gender:
- “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
- “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
- “You can observe a lot by watching.”
- “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”