Saturday, October 15, 2016

Do Men Need Safe Spaces?

Imagine the howls of social justice outrage if a major university’s Men’s Studies Department (if that were even a thing) created a program for women to re-examine and deconstruct their toxic femininity, or if a White Studies Department (bear with me here) launched a program for blacks to rethink and dismantle their toxic blackness, or if the campus straight community hosted an event for LGBTs to reject their toxic sexuality, and so on. The architects of such offensive programs would be tarred and feathered.
A culturally acceptable version of these scenarios, however, is precisely what is beginning to spread on campuses across the country now. The Duke Men’s Project, launched this month and hosted by the Duke University Women’s Center, offers a nine-week program for “male-identified” students to address such “toxic” masculine issues as male privilege, patriarchy, the language of dominance, rape culture, pornography, and machismo.
One member of the Men’s Project leadership team said the goal is to create a safe space for male students in which to “critique and analyze their own masculinity and toxic masculinities to create healthier ones.” Another member of the leadership team said the program would help men “proactively deconstruct our masculinity.”
The Duke program is patterned after a similar one at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill – co-sponsored and supported by the Carolina Women's Center – in which participants are asked to consider how masculinity plays a harmful influence in their lives. The goal of that program is “to shift the culture of masculinity toward more non-violent norms,” suggesting that violence is the norm among men.
On the other side of the country, at Claremont College last week, a group called 5Cs Thrive hosted a “Masculinity + Mental Health” event. “Masculinity can be extremely toxic to our mental health, both to the people who are pressured to perform it and the people who are inevitably influenced by it,” say the workshop’s organizers, stating outright that masculinity is some sort of mental illness.
Because masculinity, like whiteness, is considered a malignant quality today, it is culturally acceptable to openly discuss treating or “deconstructing” it, if not eradicating it. So instead of triggering outrage among sensitive campus snowflakes, these workshops and programs are being hailed even by some male students as “both admirable and necessary,” as the editorial board of Duke’s student newspaper called the Men’s Project.
Campus safe spaces ordinarily are considered retreats in which narcissistic students who have built their identity around a sense of minority victimhood can feel accepted by fellow narcissists and not judged for who they are. But the safe spaces for young men in these programs are precisely the opposite: seminars in which they are taught to publicly acknowledge their toxic nature and learn to shed themselves of it. It smacks of Marxist re-education camps. Keenly aware of that, the Duke student newspaper editors, who endorsed the Men’s Project, pre-emptively reassured critics that it was not “a reeducation camp being administered by an oppressed group in the service of the feminization of American society.”
But that is exactly what it is. “[The curriculum is about] questioning how you can be accountable to feminism, to the women in your life and to the larger community,” said one of the Men’s Project student leaders. Another noted that he hopes the program will help participants undergo a process of “deconstruction and reconstruction.” A third gushed that he is “excited that we are doing our own part to proactively deconstruct masculinity. But we also must remember that we owe a lot to the feminist work that was already occurring on campus.”
This all sounds suspiciously like what the participants and supporters claim it is not – part of an ideological agenda to fundamentally transform masculine nature and create a genderless utopia of feminized men and masculinized women. “[G]ender equality is not about bringing men down,” the Duke editors insist, “but about lifting everyone up in order to create a more comfortable and enjoyable society for all.” Methinks they doth protest too much. “Deconstruction” is by definition a tearing down, not a lifting up.
The Duke editorial board hastened to clarify that not all “masculinity is bad or evil,” nor is it “inherently pernicious.” Toxic masculinity represents only “a harmful narrow band” of the whole spectrum of masculinity, they say, and the Men’s Project enables male students to come to terms with that harmful aspect of their nature in “a space by men and for men” – albeit one created by Third Wave feminists, sponsored by Third Wave feminists, and whose aims are guided by Third Wave feminists. It is also a place, the editors add, “for males to ask any questions about feminism, gender and intersectionality that they have always wanted to ask.”
I’ve never known a man – pardon me, a “male-identified individual” – who had always wanted to know more about feminism, gender and intersectionality, but then again, I haven’t been to college in many years. Apparently I graduated just in time. In any case, what’s critical nowadays is that young men spend less time studying feminism and intersectionality and more time understanding masculinity.
Instead of poisoning the minds of young men about their own nature, shaming them about a so-called rape culture they aren’t guilty of, lecturing them about male violence, and diluting their strength and confidence, universities and society at large would be much better served by celebrating the virtues and positive qualities of manhood. Boys and young men need the freedom to be masculine, and the guidance and inspiration of older male mentors who can help them channel their aggression constructively and aspire to their best nature. They won’t get that in group therapy “safe spaces” under the disapproving supervision of Women’s Centers and their feminized student proxies.
From Acculturated, 10/11/16

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Palmer, Fernandez, and the American Dream

Over this tragic past weekend, the sports world lost two giant figures who, in different ways, represent extraordinary success stories of the American Dream.
The legendary Arnold Palmer passed away at 87 after an impossibly full life as one of the greatest icons in any sport, not only golf. In addition to being one of golf’s most accomplished champions, he earned a reputation as a class act, as admired and well-liked for his down-to-earth, gentlemanly demeanor as for his golfing skill. Palmer was noted, for example, for never refusing a fan his autograph nor asking to be paid for it.
I’m not a golfer but my late father was on the course nearly every weekend. He was an enormous fan of “Arnie,” as he and countless others called him – as if they were buddies, because Arnie was so personable and accessible that his millions of followers – “Arnie’s Army” – viewed him as a friend.
Two stories serve to capture Arnie’s kindness and humility, qualities too often overlooked and underappreciated in our era of oftentimes narcissistic and self-aggrandizing superstars.
In 2014 an avid, 18-year-old golfer and local tournament winner named Nate Marcoulier received a graduation gift from his older brother Adam. It was a letter from Arnold Palmer, whom Adam had written in the hope that the golfing icon would have some life advice for Nate. Both brothers were stunned when Palmer replied, congratulating Nate on his golf victories and telling him he would find life “enjoyable and fulfilling” if he followed this advice: 
·         Courtesy and respect are timeless principles, as well as good manners.
·         Knowing when to speak is just as important as knowing what you say.
·         Know how to win by following the rules.
·         Know the importance of when and how to say thank you.
·         Never underestimate the importance of a good education.
“Good luck in college and study hard,” Palmer concluded. “By far the best present I've ever gotten,” declared Nate.
Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament director Scott Wellman tells another tale, about Arnie’s humility and gratitude:
[A] gentleman came up to the car, knocked on the window with his young son and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Palmer, but could you give my son an autograph?” Arnold turns the car off, signs the autograph, and the gentleman said, “Thank you so much, you’ll never know how much this means to me.” And Arnold looked at him in all sincerity and said, “No, sir, thank you for asking me for the autograph.” That’s Arnold Palmer.
His many trophies notwithstanding, arguably the most important prize Palmer earned was the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship almost exactly a year ago, honoring Palmer’s “kindness and philanthropic commitment.” That award speaks more to the lives that he changed than the tournaments he won.
Pitcher Jose Fernandez also died last weekend, at the tragically young age of 24. Unlike Arnold Palmer, we will never know the heights to which Fernandez might have soared as an athlete or the impact he might have had on the game of baseball. But in his short life he persevered through three failed attempts at escaping the Communist dictatorship in Cuba (each of which earned him imprisonment) before finally managing to defect to Mexico. At one point in that final dangerous attempt, Fernandez had to dive overboard to save his mother from drowning. Fernandez went on to become Major League Baseball’s 2013 Rookie of the Year and was twice named an All-Star in only four seasons for the Miami Marlins before dying last Saturday in, ironically, a boating accident. He had just become an American citizen and announced only days ago that his girlfriend is pregnant.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly became emotional speaking to reporters about Fernandez, praising the pitcher’s “joy and passion” for the game. One mourning fan wrote a tribute celebrating one quality about Fernandez that “stands out above the others: joy… No one has ever loved playing the game as much as Jose.” He went on to describe the pitcher as “a young man who was so talented he skipped most of the minor leagues and whose joy and simple, honest gratitude to be playing baseball flooded out of him so powerfully that you couldn’t help but share in it.”
Both these men exemplify, in different ways, the American Dream. In addition to his incalculable impact on the game of golf, Arnold Palmer parlayed his championships and unforced charisma into a side career as a product pitchman; at the time of his death his personal worth was estimated at nearly $680 million. He had gone from caddying at a local country club as a youth to buying that same club as a superstar adult. Fernandez escaped obscurity and the oppression of a totalitarian regime to find fame and fortune playing the game he loved.
But both men will forever be remembered for so much more than their success and rare talent.  They exuded virtues that inspired others and transformed lives. They exhibited qualities of character that elevated their respective sports. They will be legends for the right reasons.
From Acculturated, 9/28/16

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop Guilt-Tripping Boys About Their ‘Toxic Masculinity’

Last week a proud feminist single mom posted a piece in The Washington Post in which she shamed her 16- and 18-year-old sons for not taking a more proactive stand to combat rape and misogyny. For anyone who needs a guide on How Not to Turn Your Children Into the Social Justice Warriors You Desperately Want Them to Be, “My Teen Boys Are Blind to Rape Culture” is it.

Jody Allard is a Seattle-based writer on issues related to feminism, parenting, and social justice, who describes herself as a happily single mother of seven. In previous articles she has had no compunction about sharing very personal experiences such as surviving rape, her self-loathing over a malformed hand, three failed marriages, a son’s suicidal depression, and a husband’s emotionally lacerating infidelity. She also has no compunction about publicly embarrassing her sons by declaring them “part of the problem” of rape culture and by labeling at least one of them a “rape apologist” over his reasonable belief that accused rapists should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

In her most recent WaPo confessional, Ms. Allard is disturbed and frustrated that her two teen sons aren’t more active allies with her against what she insists is our rape culture. As I’ve written elsewhere, America doesn’t have a rape culture; we have a culture in which rape is considered a heinous crime and those convicted of it – and sometimes those merely accused of it – are viewed as monsters. Does this mean that rape is uncommon or that our legal system’s handling of such cases isn’t sometimes problematic? Not at all. Does this mean that our pop culture isn’t hyper-sexualized or that it doesn’t objectify women? Not at all. But if you want to see a rape culture, travel to rural areas in Afghanistan or Iran or India. There is no such equivalent here.

Jody Allard’s sons agree. They roll their eyes when she raises issues of rape, consent, and sexism at the dinner table. “There’s no such thing as rape culture,” one tells her. “You say everything is about rape culture or sexism.” Their mother’s sense of betrayal is palpable:

My sons, who are good boys and who know all about consent, do not speak out about consent. Not when it’s uncomfortable. Not when it might jeopardize their social standing. My sons who hate hearing about their own privilege nestle inside it like a blanket and accuse me of making up its existence.

“I never imagined I would raise boys who would become men like these,” she laments. “Men who deny rape culture, or who turn a blind eye to sexism.”

Apart from her disturbing willingness to disparage her sons in a national newspaper, Allard also isn’t helping matters by pushing the boys away with her obsessive cause. “They’ve been listening to me talk about consent, misogyny and rape culture since they were tweens,” she explains, which is probably the reason they argue and resist becoming the social justice warriors she wants them to be: she’s been hectoring them for years about rape culture and they’re sick of hearing about how they’re complicit in “toxic masculinity” unless they’re also hectoring their male friends about it:

My sons are good boys... [but] when it comes to speaking out against rape culture and questioning their own ideas and behavior, they become angry and defensive. Not all men, they remind me, and my guts wrench as my own sons mimic the vitriol of a thousand online trolls.

It’s not trolling to point out, as her sons rightly do, that not all men are rapists or are enmeshed in some sort of patriarchal conspiracy against women. It’s unnecessary for her to declare that “anyone who isn’t with us is against us.” The vast majority of American men – your sons included – already are with you, Ms. Allard, in terms of finding rape to be unconscionable behavior. Also, she conveniently neglects to mention that many of today’s young women – girls, really – sadly are far from the passive victims of male sexual aggression that she makes them out to be (cue the cries of “Slut-shaming!”). Those young women must bear their share of responsibility for the current confusion about sex, consent, and assault.

Despite her misgivings, Allard seems to have raised decent boys, and that’s admirable. But she also seems to have no self-awareness about how her relationship with her sons is in danger of being warped, if it isn’t already, by her own issues with men, which become apparent as you examine some of her other work. Instead of inspiring her boys to activism, her habits of substituting a lecture on misogyny for dinner conversation and of discussing her disappointing children with Washington Post readers is obviously creating an awkward tension that may ultimately drive them away from her.

What Allard’s boys and others like them need is not a troubled feminist determined to enlist them in her social justice mission, but a good father or other close masculine role model to serve as a living, breathing demonstration of how to be a man who respects and protects women. Boys are far more likely to respond to a strong, good man’s quiet example than to Mother scolding them about their participation in the sexual victimization of women. Unfortunately there’s no indication in her article that these boys have anyone like that in their lives.

Allard is correct that good men must be ready to come to the defense of women, but guilt-tripping our sons about their male privilege, “culpability,” and “toxic masculinity” is not the way to mold good, honorable, proudly masculine young men who are respectful of women. 

From Acculturated, 9/20/16