Gender – Nature vs Nurture 8: The Looking Glass Self

August 7, 2022

There was a clear moment this past year when Dad picking out Cozy’s outfit for the day slammed into “societal expectations.” For the historical record, there is an event in the life of a second grader that sounds like this; “Dad, I don’t like how that makes me look!”

Legendary sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863 – 1931) often referred to Charles Cooley’s concept of the “looking glass self.” When “I” look in a mirror, I see “Me.” Me is society’s reflection and I evaluate myself by that reflection. It has nothing to do with who I am, only how they see “me.” I love mentioning to my students how they will never see their own face as it is. They will only see photos, videos, and reflections in mirrors, all versions of their face mediated by some external source. You don’t actually look like what you look like on Instagram. Sorry.

Even the most rugged individual’s sense of self is shaped by society. You’re a mountain man? Society says you have to have a beard, jeans, and flannel shirts. “But that’s just what I’m comfortable in,” says the rugged individual. “You know what’s even more comfortable?” asks George Herbert Mead. “Silk pajamas!” “But that will make me look like a cissy!” says the mountain man. Bam, society.

So me picking out my daughter’s clothes is starting to get filtered through the various mirrors of society. That’s not necessarily bad (“Pick out your own damn outfit,” Dad has screamed), but as we know, “society” is kinda messed up, like a funhouse full of distorted mirrors.

The first mirror is gender. This trip hits girls first. The boys in her second grade class seemed oblivious to what they should wear. Cozy has already been playing at wearing make-up with her friends. She has even said, “That outfit makes me look fat.” (Mom and Dad had a big “family time” conversation about that one.) And the way the fifth grade girls dress at her elementary school dress looks more college co-ed fashion than “kidswear.” According to feminist sociologists, like Carol Gilligan, all of this will be put in the service of attracting boys. 

Instead of being evaluated on her brains, her humor, or her ability to build a sustainable fairy house out of a bundle of sticks, society wants to primarily place her value in her “attractiveness.” Gilligan found that the self-esteem of 13-year-old girls plummeted as they began to realize that their worth was not based on what they had to offer the world but what they had to offer boys. The soccer player quits the team to become the cheerleader. Her research was first published in 1982. Forty years later, I fear the creeping insecurities of the 13-year-old girl who is told, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” will arrive in the gender politics of 3rd grade.

The second mirror is race. Less visible to white girls, BIPOC girls know that white girls set the beauty standards, whether it’s the latest fashion, straight hair, or Instagram make-up tips. My brunette mixed-race daughter has commented, more than once, about wanting an outfit because the “blondies” will like it. Already in second grade, the Aryan girls are the mirror that the other girls are seeing themselves in (and never seeing a blondie looking back at them). This isn’t any critique of Cozy’s blonde classmates. We live in a white supremacists patriarchal culture that puts “blonde girls,” at the peak of the attractiveness scale, but that scale is changing rapidly.

The third mirror is class. Not only are these kids looking up to the wealthy, to keep up with the Kardashians, they (or their parents) are expected to shell out the money so they can “look cool.” The first day of school everyone gets evaluated in their new outfits and the poor kids are always shamed. “Your momma is so poor that when I asked her what’s for dinner tonight she lit her pocket on fire and said, hot pocket.” We can still find Cozy outfits at Goodwill but we are about 60 seconds away from that door closing and it’s gotta be the latest trend OR SHE WILL DIE. We’re trying to give her a bohemian ethic that rejects wealth in favor of a decidedly downwardly mobile artist esthetic. My credit card really needs her to be a beatnik.

All of this is tied to the process of “our baby” becoming her own person. But, as Mead explained, her sense of self is being formed by the culture she lives in and more than once I have been tempted to smash the mirror.

Here comes third grade.

Seriously, What’s Wrong with Men? Lighting Fires in Post-Roe America

May 12, 2022

In the 1990s, I assigned a book entitled Men Are Not Cost Effective to my criminology students. June Stephen’s 1991 book makes the case that men commit the overwhelming majority of crimes and each of those crimes carries a financial burden represented in the costs of policing, courts, incarceration, parole, probation, rehabilitation, and crime prevention programs. Since half of the tax bill for funding all this falls on women who are not committing these crimes, Stephenson argues men should pay a “man tax” to pay for their bad behavior.

How little things have changed in 30 years. From shootings on New York subway trains to the genocidal violence being levied by Russians against the people of Ukraine, men’s bad behavior seems completely unrestrained and even facilitated by some women. After I returned from Ukraine, a story broke about a Russian soldier whose wife gave him permission to rape Ukrainian women. This was reported before and after numerous stories of Russian soldiers raping the victims of their invasion. What is wrong with men?

It should be of no surprise to anyone that Donald Trump’s Supreme Court is doing exactly what he said it would in snuffing out women’s bodily autonomy by reversing Roe v. Wade. In Trump’s misogynistic world, women’s and girl’s bodies belong to men. Their “pussies” are there to be grabbed by MAGA men and raped by Russian soldiers. Their duty is to look good to male eyes and not challenge male authority. And they will be rewarded for maintaining that status quo whether it’s the small college scholarships from Trump’s uber-creepy Miss Teen USA contest, or being handed “careers” while towing the big lies of the Trump administration (I’m looking at you, Kayleigh McEnany). When women play their “be a good girl” role, the rewards follow. Women and girls are to be looked at, not to offer opinions about their ownership of their bodies. A similar case was made a hundred years ago against “giving” women the right to vote. Why did they need to vote when they had husbands to do that for them? Seriously, what’s wrong with men?

The traditional way of defending the radical idea that female human beings are human beings ain’t working. The ballot box has failed us. Post-reproductive women in the Senate,  like Alaska’s Lisa Murkowksi (64) and Maine’s Susan Collins (69) just voted against codifying women’s reproductive rights into federal laws. And batshit crazy Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert are chomping at the bit to force American women and teenage rape victims to give birth. They are only one or two degrees away from the Russian wives encouraging their husbands to rape Ukrainian women. So if putting our faith in Election Day and singing, “We shall overcome, someday” is playing out as moving us backwards in women’s rights, what’s the better strategy?

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 woke up a lot of white people. Folks of all races took to the streets. Shit got fucked up. There were fires this time. And even though 93 percent of Black Lives Matter protests were completely peaceful, the riots captured the news cycle. We now know that President Trump wanted federal troops to shoot BLM protestors in front of the White House. But like how the riots following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. pushed Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act, the turmoil of 2020 worked. Research shows that cities that had BLM protests saw a reduction in police killings. There were countless policy reforms and, while some were merely cosmetic, they reflected the shift in America’s opinions on institutional racism in the justice process. Deep conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) became normalized in private and the public sectors. (I can’t count how many workshops on implicit bias I conducted after the tear gas cleared.)

There are a lot more women and girls in America than black people. The summer of 2022 could make the summer of 2020 look like the summer of 1020. (I’m assuming the summer of 1020 was pretty chill, but Wikipedia just told be that Italy was on fire.) The patriarchal line is that women are more relational and less action oriented than men, but those people weren’t here in Portland to see women (and many teenage girls) on the front lines. The Wall of Moms, anarchists, high schoolers, and the founders of Black Lives Matters; everywhere in 2020 women were up in The Man’s face demanding change.

According to every Republican running for governor in Oregon, “violent protestors” were burning down cities in 2020. I live in Portland and was at the protests numerous nights. There were a couple of brief bonfires set in the middle of the street and a handful of trashcans set on fire. Portland was not “burned to the ground” or even burned. But those images sure got a lot attention because the fire next time was potentially real. In 2022, there may be a value in a few well placed dumpster fires, particularly from Alabama to Texas (what we can call the Gilead Belt), but there’s a larger question that needs to be addressed first, what’s wrong with men?

What is it in men’s psyche that keeps them thinking the oppression of others is in their long term interest? Whether it’s old white men, like Mitch McConnell and his boss Vladimir Putin, or younger sex-traffickers like Matt Gaetz, or just the average Joe Blow on the street, it seems like men as a whole are hell bent on doing jack shit to end their oppression of women and girls. From unequal pay to sexual assault to endless public commentary on Hilary Duff’s (airbrushed) body after birthing three kids (gasp!), patriarchy remains firmly in place, and no amount of elderly white ladies in Congress, or their younger white counterparts who are backed by the fanatics of MAGA (Make America Guys Again), will change that.

We need spies inside the halls of patriarchy to find answers. In 1963, feminist writer Gloria Steinem went undercover as a “bunny” at the Playboy Club in New York City. Her exposé, “A Bunny’s Tale,” revealed how adult women were treated and harassed in Hefner’s clubs that were the symbol of modern masculinity 60 years ago. Maybe a new generation of women can attach themselves to the arms of the captains of industry, hang out at gun shows, or get jobs at whatever strip club Samual Alito sneaks into, and find out why these men are so fragile. Why does the oppression of women, immigrants, the poor, and minorities make them feel powerful? Why does using young men to be rapist soldiers in their wars of choice make them feel like their penises still work?

Speaking of penises, we might get a little help from Freud here. Psychoanalytic feminists look to Freud’s idea that early childhood experiences subconsciously shape our adult personality. Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), argues that children are all initially intimately connected to their mothers as the primary sources of sustenance and nurturing. But then boy children are pulled away from their mothers and expected to attach to their fathers. This separation anxiety becomes a psychosis in which the mother is framed as the source of rejection and that anger is levied at all women. In addition, since the separation was not boys’ choice, the desire to control others choice becomes a subconscious mandate.

It’s not a stretch to guess that Trump has serious issues with regard to his Scottish mother, Mary Anne, as Putin likely does with his factory worker mom, Maria. On the other side, Joe Biden seems to have a long and loving relationship with his mother until her death in 2010 at 92. Is understanding why so many men are invested in patriarchal control (and why others seem less so) as simple as understanding the separation anxieties they feel toward their mothers? It would explain why the so many men take a dim view of therapy. If therapy can repair early childhood trauma, what’s left for the misogynist? Being a god is much more affirming than just being a human being.

Pyscho-babble aside, the old strategy of politely asking men not to oppress women and girls in every single aspect of society and phase of life, from the devaluing of female babies to the invisibility of older women, is not working. Until we can fix men’s fragile minds, there might have to be some shit that gets set on fire. It’s worked in the past.

Represent! Why We Need a Black Woman on the Supreme Court

January 30, 2022

There’s a classic experiment in the 1940s that unmasked the true depth of racism in America. Two psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, gave black children in New York City four baby dolls, two with dark skin and two with light skin. Then the researchers asked the kids to pick the “good” dolls and the “bad” dolls. The black children generally saw the white dolls as good and black dolls as bad. The experiment was later used to convince the Supreme Court to hear the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1951.

The black doll experiment has been repeated numerous times, well into the 21st century, and still results in gut-wrenching displays of the internalized white supremacy in black children. (Just watch a few on YouTube.) The demonstration has an added value as our attention returns to the Supreme Court and the issue of race, and the coming vacancy of Justice Stephen Breyer. President Biden has said he would nominate a black women to the bench. That means something to the little black girls in Harlem that picked the white doll.

Racism takes many forms. We easily associate it with cross-burning Klansmen and “Whites Only” signs from the Jim Crow days. But it can be a slight as a clutched purse when a black man steps on an elevator, or as insidious as predatory lending from banks who prey on black and brown people. We see it in the causal commentary about “Mexican immigrants” and the bloody tally as hate crimes rise.

But it is also present in absence. For every black boy who has never seen a male teacher who looked like him, or for every Asian girl who as never seen an Asian woman in the media portrayed as anything other than “exotic,” representation is a game changer. We white people never notice this because, quite literally, there are people who look like this in every filed we can imagine. A white fish doesn’t know it’s in water until you take it out of the damn water.

That gets coded as “white is normal,” and every other race is the exception. You don’t have to say, “white person.”  You can just say “person,” because their whiteness is assumed (as is their maleness). In the nearly 233 years of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s pretty much been a nonstop sea of white people. That changed in 1967, when President Johnson swore in Thurgood Marshall, who was on the bench until 1991, when he was succeeded by Clarence Thomas and his Pepsi can. Thomas, hasn’t exactly been a civil rights lion, not even offering an opinion until the 2003 Virginia v. Black cross-burning case.

But race is not gender and blackness is not femaleness. Representation is an intersectional matter. Just like there are no actual afro-Caribbeans in Lin-Manuel’s film, In the Heights, (a musical about an afro-Caribbean neighborhood in New York), there have been no black women on the high court. While you might find plenty of black female judges in local courtrooms, 80% of federal judges are white and black women magistrates make up a tiny sliver of the remaining 20%. The addition of a black woman would not only be meaningful to those little black girls (and the thousands of black female attorneys), but it would make a difference to the non-black people, too.

The subtle prejudice of absence is in the lack of affirmation. People thought blacks could never be faster than whites, until Jesse Owens was. People thought a black man could never win the presidency, until Barak Obama did. People thought that a black person could never become a billionaire, until BET founder Robert L. Johnson made it. The Supreme Court is the brain trust of our democracy. The absence of black women sends a subtle message about they capabilities.

The white supremacists over at Fox News are already having a field day, playing the “reverse racism” card to their elderly white audience. The rhetoric goes like this; If Biden picks a black woman for the court, he’s screwing a capable white man out of a job. I wonder how many capable black women have been screwed out that job so a white person and/or a man could be hired. But the white snowflakes are apoplectic over the thought that a black women might have an informed opinion on constitutional matters more rooted in reality than something they heard spewed by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Ted Cruz or any of the other white men who, in the words of James Brown, are talking loud and saying nothing.

As we head into Black History Month we can underestimate the power of firsts. The first black airline pilot (Marlon Green, 1964). The first black pole vaulter to medal at the Olympics (LoJo Johnson, 2000). The first black woman in space (Mae Jamison, 1992). Second and thirds are equally important. Like the court was made up of all white men from 1789 to 1967, there may be a future court where all nine justices are black women. Until then, whoever President Biden picks, will be a reminder to those little black girls to pick the doll that looks like them.

Confronting Misogyny in Family Feud America

November 13, 2021

I think there was a naive hope that when the Orange Führur was banished from the White House (and Twitter) that the levels of toxic masculinity would ease off a bit. But this is patriarchal America and misogyny is our most hallowed value. Brittney Spears might be free, but the alt-right regularly refers to our vice-president as “Cum-Allah” and continues to plot its boogaloo boy revolution. Nothing triggers fragile men like ending middle eastern wars and a new Adele album.

I was reminded of this one night when the three of us were chomping on burritos while watching the produced-in-Atlanta game show Family Feud. I’ve enjoyed it since the Richard Dawson seventies and Steve Harvey does some pretty hilarious adlib comedy. It seemed like some harmless family entertainment since we’d burned through every episode of the capitalist propaganda-fest that is Shark Tank.

I’d noticed the “survey says” answers on the show’s gameboard occasionally went a little “off color” to go for the cheap laugh, but the Feud really showed its true colors one November night. The question was, “What is one thing a man could do that would cause his wife not to stand up for him.” Of course, the top answer was “cheat,” but when it flipped up on the gameboard what the oh-so-sophisticated writers had for the winning answer was, “CHEAT/GET A HO PREGGO.” I looked at Andi and she looked at me and then we both looked at our 7-year-old daughter. And then we shut the TV off.

Steve Harvey didn’t say anything about it and neither did anyone else as far as I can tell. This is how normalized sexism still is in 2021. If a woman gets pregnant with a married man, she must be a whore. And the chorus of “It was a joke! Get over it!” comes in to make the degradation of women just part of the normal background noise. Nothing to get upset about. Imagine if the “joke” about the “ho” had been about a “coon” or some other racist slur. We’d have heard about it then. Racism gets a rally and sexism get a yawn. That’s because patriarchy goes back a lot farther than white supremacy. And white supremacy goes way back.

This was playing out the same time that Arizona Republican Paul Gosar (who is a dentist and sits in the United State Congress) was joking about violently murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. And this complete psycho (visit his Twitter feed if you want a glimpse of the current state of Idiocracy) is still seated in the House of Representatives. This is how little we value women and girls in our country. Afghanistan, hold my beer.

I was reminded of how far we hadn’t come, babe, when we were shopping for our daughter’s Halloween costume. The costume store had segregated the costumes by gender (separate but definitely not equal). In the kids section, the boys costumes were various superheroes, serial killers, and Mindcraft stuff. The girls section was primarily, sexy nurse, sexy zombie, and sexy schoolgirl. These were the costumes for second grade girls. Cozy picked out a “sexy devil” costume that we figured we could modify to not catch the eyes of the Jeffrey Epsteins in the neighborhood. The sexualization of elementary school girls is not new but when it’s your second grader, you want to burn the costume store, Spirit Halloween, to the fucking ground.

I know this giant tanker of sexism takes time around. More women are now graduating from college than men. And women have outnumbered men in the workforce since 2010. But it’s the everyday sexism that cuts women and girls off at the knees. And it will continue to sabotage their deserved equity unit men say this must stop. (I zipped off a fervent Tweet to Steve Harvey and his show which we will no longer watch). I can only shield my daughter from so much sexist bullshit. I’m gonna need some help from my brothers in arms.

President Snowflake: How Trump’s fragile masculinity made me a better man.

November 19, 2020

If there was ever a time America needed a leader, it’s now as COVID deaths surge past a quarter million. But sad Donald Trump is in his bunker, tweeting madly that he won the election “by a lot.” No stimulus program for Americans falling into homelessness. No national mask mandate to save additional lives. Just Baby Donald having a temper tantrum and a circus of sycophants too afraid to tell the Emperor that the world is laughing at him.

The pathetic end of Donald J. Trump is not only a lesson in how not to be a president. It’s also a vital lesson in how not to be a man. Of course, Mr. “Grab’ em by the pussy” has provided that service for years.

The lockdowns of 2020 have certainly presented challenges for single people, but there have been challenges for those of us that are boo’d up as well. The pandemic has forced many of us married and “coupled up” (as they say on Love Island) to learn how to truly co-exist in a confined space, without the easy exit hatch of “let’s just go out.” There’s only so much Netflixing you can do. At some point, it gets real. And as if providing (finally) some kind of national service, there’s President Hissy-fit giving the men of America a perfect example of how not to handle this moment.

From the very beginning, Trump has made it all about him. From his word-salad lie-fests before his adoring cult crowds to his denial of the Biden victory, “America first” has always been code for “Trump first” and you almost feel sorry for the schleps that still fall for this con man. (“Quick! Donate to President Trump’s legal team so he prove those black votes in Detroit and Atlanta were illegal! We take PayPal!”) Trump always centers himself and you don’t have to look at Melania’s face to see that that’s his fatal flaw.

But this isn’t about Trump. It’s about all us men who do the same thing. We’ve been socialized to believe it’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world and women are there as our support system. (BEHIND every great man… is a woman who should be out in front.) The world is about our male hopes and plans and adventures and successes and failures and wet dreams. That’s why Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) resonated with so many women. It simply asked, but what about me? Arn’t I a person, too?

Sadly, the second wave feminist movement that Friedan helped launch did not fully humanize females in America. It made a lot of progress (Thank you, Title IX and hello Vice President Harris!), but it still looks like a penis-centered culture. At least American Ninja Warrior puts the the top two female contestants through to the finals. We can find plenty of reasons to find cracks in patriarchy. (I’ll credit Nancy Pelosi for keeping Trump’s nuts in a vice grip and the daughters of NFL fans for prioritizing Beyoncés BLM anthems over Go Daddy commercials and cheerleaders in halter tops.) We can see progress all around us (if we turn blind eye to the epidemic of rape in the country), but there are still people who want to make America “Father Knows Best” again.

We can talk about this on a societal level (RBG was right. We’ve had generations of all-male Supreme Courts. When do we get an all-female Supreme Court?) But this is about the personal journey of men stepping away from the destructive (including to men) effects of patriarchy.

More than that, this about me learning how to love my wife.

If patriarchy, on a macro-level, is about centering men’s voice and minds in society, on a personal level it’s about doing the same Goddamn thing in our relationships. Hi ladies, welcome to my world. Can you make me a sandwich? Feminist Dorothy E. Smith has written how women are given control of the “domestic sphere” so men can have pretty much everything else on earth. And that can include the space in a relationship.

Now, to be clear, I have claimed feminism as a core value in my life since the 1980s and proudly left my job to become a stay-at-home dad, inspired by my favorite househusband John Lennon. I can thrill you with stories of escorting women into abortion clinics past the screaming banshees of Operation Rescue and challenging students to accept that God is most likely female, but I still internalized patriarchy in the same sad way I internalized white supremacy.

That became most clear this year during long, under quarantine, conversations with my wife. Like most people, we’ve had our fair share of COVID-magnified conflicts; about money, about parenting, about who is going to wash the dishes. She was quick to point out how quickly I would go into defensive mode and try to “prove” my case, like we were on opposing debating teams. We’re on the same team! I forgot! But it became all about me and how I was somehow aggrieved.

What I should have been doing is asking questions. Why do you feel this way? What can I do to help? I should have centered her and put my amazing wife first in the discussion, but instead  I retreated into “Randyland,” wondering why she had a “well, fuck this shit” look on her face. Maybe if I slept downstairs I could comeback, refreshed with an even clearer articulation of my position, complete with PowerPoint slides. Meanwhile, my wife felt more and more alone as I plotted strategies in my head instead of re-coupling (also a term from Love Island).

This is going to sound completely basic to many people (and maybe a few men), but I have literally burned through every relationship by doing this. By making it about me. That’s not how love is supposed to work. You’re supposed to put your partner’s emotional well-being before your own, but in patriarchal America I didn’t get that role modeling, not from my father and not from Starsky & Hutch. The result was relationships crashing and burning and me thinking that I was just a “psycho-chick magnet.” If they were psycho, it was because I centered myself instead of them.

There is a parallel phenomenon here with regard to race called White Fragility. America has the handbook and is starting to figure that out. (Thanks, Robin!) It’s not about you, Karen, so stop centering yourself and start centering black voices. Maybe, we need a book called Male Fragility: Why Men Get Their Panties in a Wad.

My wife is strong as hell and sure enough doesn’t need a guy like me who doesn’t put his partner before himself. I should have gotten that lesson a long time ago. I’m not the king of my castle. But somewhere, between long, hard conversations with her and watching Baby Trump center himself instead of the nation we hired him to lead, I got it. Don’t be like Trump. Hey Donald, it’s not about you. It’s about America. She’s trying to tell you how she feels. Please listen.

What is the feminist position on the COVID-19 pandemic?

May 19, 2020

The nice thing about having a “paradigm” is that there’s a formula to plug in to when challenging issues emerge. Liberals and conservatives, religious fundamentalists and scientists all have “narratives” they can utilize to make sense of the world. Similarly, feminists have a good starting position, that elements in society work to uphold patriarchal male power structures or challenge them. That’s feminist thinking in a tiny nutshell.

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So what’s the feminist position on the coronavirus?

Feminism is not monolithic. There is as much debate within feminist circles. Just mention Hillary Clinton. A liberal feminist, a radical feminist, a Marxist feminist, and an eco feminist walk into a bar… So rushing to a feminist position on a global pandemic is harder than it looks. Even after three months of pondering the matter.

While no feminist would celebrate sickness and death (that’s a male thing), there could be a feminist “I told you so” element to this mess. Mother Earth might be offering humanity a time-out for the bad behavior of waging war and dumping killing pollution. Eco feminists highlight the importance of healing and with endless wars and traffic jams on pause for a minute, we get to experience the joy of a planetary healing. There are sea turtles on Miami Beach and dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice! Will we really want to return to the nasty business as usual after this micro-organism mandated retreat? Regardless, the lesson remains that man does not control this planet.

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And here’s a little “gender equality amid pandemic” point that my wife brought up; Zoom as a great equalizer. Zoom and other remote meeting platforms have become the new way to exist publicly. My classes have weekly Zoom meetings. On these platforms every person has an equal space, both in terms of the size of their video box and their volume. (“Everyone on mute?”) Since we are working and learning from home, the impression management is way down. Women don’t have to do their makeup and men don’t need a tie. We’re all equally casual in our Brady Bunch grids. I’ve done lecture videos after waking up from a nap and done interviews with a beer in my hand. There’s no judgement in a pandemic. We’re all in this bad hair day together. And if a woman is Zooming in to work with a toddler climbing on her neck, all respect for her for even bothering to unmute her video.

The other side of the ledger is less hopeful. There’s plenty of reasons to see this nightmare as another opportunity for patriarchal power grabs. The first thing to come across the wire when all this started was the impact that the lockdown was having on women who were in domestic violence situations, trapped in spaces with their abusers. By April, reports of calls spiking to domestic violence around the globe made the sad trend undeniable. Women began passing desperate messages in code to pharmacists, hoping for a lifeline away from the violence. Similarly, young LGBTQ people who are stuck at home with homophobic adults must be praying for the moment for this whole thing end.

The women on the frontline of the pandemic have taken the brunt of the risk. Working in health care and food services, taking care of the elderly, they are the most essential of workers, and the most expendable when the crisis hits the fan. They clean the bedpans of the infected, while Ivanka fixes her father’s make-up.

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As is the norm these days, Donald Trump simplifies things for us. Watching him puff up his chest in his daily performance as the manly man in charge (He don’t need no mask!), is just a lesson in the absurd limits of masculinity. (The fact that he’s claiming to take hydroxychloroquine just adds to his soft orange underbelly.) But it’s not his buffoonery that props up patriarchy, although if a female leader demonstrated such incompetence, with nearly 100,000 Americans (so far) dead, she would have been eaten alive.

It’s Trump’s “war-time president” rhetoric that’s the big gender reveal. While things are cooling down on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, look at how quickly we long to be going to war against something. And like those wars, it’s always futile. The War on Poverty, the War on Crime, and the War on Drugs didn’t end poverty, crime, or drugs either. And some would argue that they made those problems worse. Likewise, the war on Trump’s “invisible enemy” won’t “defeat” COVID-19. We learn to live with disease, and adapt to the coexistence. If you’ve ever gotten a flu shot or worn a condom, you have participated in that adaptation. Trump’s war has inflated the curve, not flattened it.

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When he refers to the “invasion” of the “Chinese virus,” (most infected folks entered the U.S. from Europe), he’s playing into the “Us vs. Them” binary that masks the naturally complex path diseases take. But he has to keep it simple for his simple base. This has involved the president of the United States of America sending tweets to quasi-domestic terrorists. His call to “liberate Michigan” (governed by “that woman,” as he calls her), and other states governed by Democrats, has triggered the anti-government militia men. Armed with AK-47s and rocket launchers (seriously) these “freedom” lovers in MAGA hats (and a handful of “their women”) have been seen on state capitals, spreading their germs and threatening to launch a civil war if they don’t get back their God-given right to go to the mall to buy camo wife-beaters.

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The “War on” rhetoric is tired but it works. It gets boys to men ginned up to go in to battle. And like all battles, there are casualties. The workers in the meat packing plants in Iowa who have died with ventilators down their throats are just abstract statistics to his base. And mostly brown statistics, at that. Ivanka is still healthy and the family stock price in hydroxychloroquine is only going up. As Sartre once wrote, “When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.” Trump, the four-time draft dodger, is great at pretending to be a warrior (remember his celebration of “his generals”?), but the men, women, and children who will suffer and die because of his hubris are evidence of dire limitations of the blade and the perils of unchecked toxic masculinity.

So has this virus reinforced patriarchal power and the oppression that comes with it?

While we take a break from mass shootings and realize the great labor of all the women who stayed home with the kids without pay, I’m hoping we can use this moment to deflate the dumb puffed up chests of male rule. We have a moment to just talk to each other. Just think of all the conversations husbands are having with their wives because there is no basketball on TV. If ever there was a time to listen to women, it’s now. Maybe, anti-government/pro-Trump “protestors” aside, the earth is turning the corner. We’re ready for a paradigm shift.

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Female Role Models For My Daughter (and all those boys)

July 6, 2019

There’s a classic riddle I offer my sociology students when I want them to think about gender.

A man is spending a day with his young son who he is meeting for the first time. They do the usual father-son things like going to a ball game and having ice cream in an ice cream shop. At the end of the day, there is a horrible car accident and the father is killed.The boy is critically injured and taken to the Emergency Room. The attending doctor sees a child in need of critical aid brought into the ER and gasps, saying, “I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son!” 

Who is the doctor?

The first time I heard this riddle my mind did all kinds of backflips. Maybe the doctor was the step-father or maybe there were, somehow, two fathers in this universe. Then someone said, “The doctor is his mother” and I felt like a complete idiot. It’s a valuable lesson in how our brain is trained for normative maleness. Oddly, if I had grown up in the USSR, the answer to the riddle would have been obvious as the majority of medical doctors in the old Soviet Union were women. We’re not at gender equity yet, but I have great hope for my daughter’s generation. (Our daughter has a female doctor, by the way.)

The vestiges of patriarchy still pervade my 4-year-old’s preschool life. A male classmate told her that “girls can’t be bosses,” even though the owner of the school is a woman. I hope she called bullshit on the boy but I know she gets a lot of reinforcement of the “men are in charge” narrative even if at home dad is folding laundry while mom clocks in the hours at work.

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The day after we got back from Mexico, a tornado blew down our street in Portland. It was only an EF 0, but we were in the car right next to it and saw it take down the biggest tree in the neighborhood. Quickly, police and fire departments were on the scene, as the rain poured and power lines flailed about in the wind. As I gave interviews to local news crews, I saw Cozy talking to a female police officer about the twister. I realized that, thanks to my dragging her to endless meetings with law enforcement, she’s met enough female cops and FBI agents to know that women are in important positions of power all around her.

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Earlier this summer we took her to her first Portland Thorns game so she could see thousands of people cheering for our amazing female athletes. For her, it was just a normal sporting event, nothing remarkable that all the players on the pitch were women. What was even cooler was that she got to see tons of boys and men (including her dad) cheering for the mighty Thorns, at a record crowd in Providence Park, as they took down the Chicago Red Stars.

That’s been one of the most thrilling parts of watching the women’s World Cup matches this summer. Sure it’s great to see girls getting to see women play hard and fast soccer to a global audience (even if they are paid significantly less than male FIFA players), imagining that they could do it too. That there is space in a male-dominated world for female athletes and careers in their sport. But it’s also important that so many boys are showing up to root for women. It’s the beautiful game. We might have a misogynist in the White House, but the walls are coming down in football stadiums all around the world as men cheer on their sisters.

Gender socialization is real. It happens when we are conscious of it. (We live in a Barbie-free Zone.) But also when we don’t see it. I hope Cozy has taken note of all the women running for president, the women who she meets who work in local and national government, the female firefighters who responded to the tornado on our street, the female sportscasters on TV, and all the moms of friends who are working and bringing home the vegan bacon. But I also hope all her little male friends take note of the exact same thing.

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I was of two-minds about the 2011 Beyoncé song, “Run the World” The refrain, of course, was “Girls!” It was an empowering anthem but masked the fact that men (and their anti-woman/anti-Mother Earth agenda) still pretty much run the show, from Afghanistan to Alabama. Girls need to be armed with this truth, patriarchy is real and will not die easily. A few World Cup matches isn’t going to change that. But I think the girls (and boys) of Gen Z, might be able to see what that world will look like. It will look like a million people cheering as a talented female puts the ball into the back of the net.

 

Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad

January 17, 2019

I’ve never been a big fan of Gillette razors. Gillette is owned by Proctor & Gamble, one of the least-socially responsible mega-corporations and I remember boycotting them in the 1980s over their commitment to animal testing. So imagine my surprise this week to learn that Gillette was launching an awareness campaign called The Best Men Can Be that acknowledged the issue of toxic masculinity. What wasn’t surprising was the backlash from snowflake “macho” men who saw the corporation trying to dismantle maleness itself.

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The ad for the campaign aired this week and it’s powerful, linking the issues of bullying and sexual harassment to the type of “boys will be boys” masculinity that for too long has gone unchecked. And when it is checked, for just one minute and 48 seconds, a lot of bros simply freak out, swearing they will never buy a Gillette product again. These men fall into three categories.

  1. Misogynists who think it is their (male) God-given right to harass women and bully boys and men they view as less “manly.”
  2. Men who think the term “toxic masculinity” refers to all forms of masculinity. (As I’ve written, masculinity isn’t toxic. Toxic masculinity is.)
  3. Men who don’t understand that gender is something that we learn. We learn different definitions of masculinity at different times in history and in different places in the world. Masculinity has very little to do with having a penis.

When gauging the freak out, you see plenty of all three types of men. They’ve already made response videos, which I can’t stomach to watch. And I’ve given up on trying to educate these men in the comments section on the YouTube video. They are in full defense mode, many hilariously claiming the Gillette is a “Marxist corporation.” Seriously.

Here are a few of the prize-winners just from today:

Gillette the gayest a man can get – kdubs_r

Legal system: Innocent until proven guilty. Gillette: Men, guilty until proven innocent. – Nathan Drake

You do know that feminists are quite proud to not shave right? – Ben Haworth

“Because the boys watching today will be the women of tomorrow ” – Taffe M

It’s Toxic Irresponsibility. Not toxic masculinity. Why would you inject gender into this? The fight is against social irresponsibility. There are just as many irresponsible women in society as there are men. Why is the tip of the spear pointed only at men here? – Nic 9Volt

And my favorite;

Men account for around 80% of suicides. Men are most likely to fall victim to violent crimes. Men work the most dangerous jobs. More men die on the front lines of war/ Men have shorter life spans. GTFO of here with your social justice propaganda this is not a man’s world in the slightest – Mickey Rourke

Mickey just made the case that toxic masculinity is killing men without even knowing it!

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I have a feeling that someone at Fox News or some alt right website told their mob of triggered bros to flood the comment section, because, it’s pretty hilarious/sad. Maybe I live in a Portland bubble where most men know there are many ways of doing masculinity that don’t include beating up “sissys,” harassing women, of going on shooting sprees for that matter. These mouth breathers seem to think Gillette is describing ALL MEN. Maybe they missed former NFL player and male feminist (and TV hunk) Terry Crews in the ad saying “Men need to hold other men accountable.”

The first category of men, the committed misogynists, are going to see what they want to see in this commercial. They’ve labeled it “anti-man,” “anti-white,” and “anti-American.” They are committed to their inherited rights to have their authority remain unchallenged and will be in high attack mode to prevent a woman from being elected in 2020. (Several of the negative comments on YouTube reference doughy rich boy Donald Trump as the paragon of masculinity.)

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The other two categories can be reached through education. Why is violent crime overwhelming committed by men? Toxic masculinity, but there are scores of men who model other forms of masculinity that resists the harm men do to themselves and others because “boys will be boys.” Where does this toxic masculinity come from? We learn it at an early age when we learn that “boys don’t cry” and you show a girl that you like her by punching her. If there was ever a time for a sociologist it’s right now!

This is the message that I’ve been sharing with my students for nearly thirty years. We can construct gender any way we want. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad and I love Marvel superhero movies. This week I called out a guy on Facebook for referring to a female elected member of congress as a “bimbo.” Another guy, a rather well-known former cop named CW Jenson, claimed that I must have “burned my man card.” I told him I proudly burned it in college. “It’s called growing up,” I said. I’m just as much of a man as Mr. TV Cop.

Terry Crews is right. It’s up to boys and men to shut this shit down whenever and wherever it appears, on Facebook and in the office. I was walking Cozy past a schoolyard to the park recently and two middle school boys were beating up a third. I broke it up but where were the teachers? Boys will be boys? Silence is permission and it’s time to get loud. THAT IS NOT COOL!

It’s not surprising to see the Old Boys Club freak out over the Gillette ad. The writing is on the wall. The times they are-a-changing. And the genie is out of the bottle. Women are holding a mirror up to men’s faces and they don’t like what they see. Some men will change. Others will just try to smash the mirror. As Gloria Steinem recently told me, the moment when a woman is most at risk of being murdered by her abuser is when she finally tries to escape him. The abusers are fighting hard as we try to break free. I hope efforts like this will mean my daughter will be safer than my wife is and my mother was. In the meantime, I think I need a shave. Know any good razor companies?

Brett Kavanaugh and Bro Culture: Let’s Look in the Mirror

Sept. 28, 2018

Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I are basically the same age. He’s almost a full year younger than me and a lot more bourgeoise. But the summer of 1982, we were probably pretty similar characters. He was hanging out at the country club in Deleware, and I was hanging out in punk rock bars in London. He was drinking a lot of beer at 17 and I was trying to be vegan at 18. But we were both teenage boys surrounded by Rocky images of masculinity and the patriarchal notion that God or the gods put all the world’s women on Earth for us to enjoy.

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The difference is that I never tried to rip the clothes off of 15-year-old girls. My warped perception of male entitlement only went as far as envying the shower scene in Porky’s. I was sexually shy that summer, but he seemed to have an action plan.

Watching the testimony yesterday morning of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was gut wrenching. I have to think that millions of women (and plenty of men) were both transfixed and transported back to their own moments of violation. The trauma of sexual assault isn’t a wound that is just healed by time. We don’t expect war veterans suffering from PTSD to “just get over it,” yet there seems to be some statute of limitations on the waves of devastation caused by sexual violence. Dr. Ford was calm but fragile, as she relived her deep-rooted trauma. Kavanaugh’s hysterical testimony, full of conspiracy theories about the Clintons and “Democratic hit jobs,” would have been derided if he had been a female, but men are allowed to use their anger as a cudgel in absence of the truth. “He must be right, look how loud he is yelling.” (And aren’t judges supposed to be politically impartial. This is like giving Fox News a seat on the Supreme Court.)

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The underlying message is that the starting assumption is men are truth tellers and women are liars or patsies. Welcome to Anita Hill Redux. You haven’t come a long way, baby. And yes, maybe Ford was mistaken and Kavanaugh is innocent, but his “defense” didn’t convince a single rape victim. No matter how impressive your resume is and how many times you’ve flown on Air Force one and how much you lean on the wisdom of your daughters, good men can do bad things. His credentials don’t shield him from abusive behavior. It’s not good people vs. evil monsters, us vs. them. It’s just us.

As I recently wrote with regard to race, not only do we all internalize white supremacy, infecting each of us with a degree of racism, so to we all internalize misogyny, infecting each of us with a degree of sexism. We might not say it out loud, but we (men and women) are socialized to believe that “male” is the norm (a message delivered by your mailMAN each day), and women are, as Simone de Beauvoir called it, the second sex. I’ve written a great deal about the challenges of being a male feminist when the go-to switch in your head says women are “girls” and secondary or sexual objects. I am a racist and a sexist. Brett and I both learned these lessons long before 1982. The difference seems to be that I seek to purge the sexism within me and he has chosen to deny its existence. I half expected him to pull a Trump and claim, “I’m the least sexist person you’ll ever meet!”

Part of the gendered message we get early on is that men stick together to maintain their authority. “Bros before hos,” the frat boys chant. That male bonding was evident in the predatory behavior of teenage Kavanaugh and his wing-man Mark Judge and it is evident in the Republican men of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are desperate to give this bro a lifetime appointment on the high court. Bro culture reinforces patriarchy from the ball field to fraternity row to the senate chambers.

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But it’s easy to point to Brett Kavanaugh as the supreme douchebag of the land, who may or may not have spent Beach Week ’82 plying underage girls with grain alcohol. Whether or not he makes it on the court, he will always be known as the “rapey judge.” Kavanaugh is “them.” We need to focus on us and how our own internalized misogyny creates the rape culture that allows credentialed dicks like Kavanaugh to rise to prominence. If the rise of the alt-right is an opportunity for this country to explore the damage done by white privilege and normalized racism, the Kavanaugh hearings are an opportunity for us to confront our issues with male privilege and normalized sexism.

Brett Kavanaugh isn’t the problem. He’s a symptom of the problem. As my wife and I watched Ford’s testimony, we wondered if our daughter would be telling her own stories of sexual trauma one day, trying to convince a panel of old men about the lifelong damage created by one single act. Trump and his old boy network are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that #metoo is just a fad and the old regime stands firm, so I am desperately worried my daughter will encounter her own Brett Kavanaugh at some point.

But if we men can take a deep dive into our own sexism, our simple dismissal of women and all things feminine, we might put an end to the uproarious laughter of boys who have a girl locked in a room and see her dehumanization as sport. We might delegitimize the delegitimization of women and girls. We might keep my daughter safe by surrounding her with boys and men who see her not just as somebody’s daughter but as somebody. We might be able to undo what we have done for so long.

Guest Essay: The Status of Women

May 31, 2018

I like to occasionally feature the work of the only actual award-winning writer in the house, my wife, Andrea. She really pulls the #metoo moment together in this essay.

The Status of Women

by Andrea Barrios

Guest Essay

To paraphrase what Walidah Imarisha stated in her Martin Luther King, Jr. speech: wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without the triple evils: militarism, materialism and poverty? Without the militarism that has placed neighbor against neighbor in Myanmar, sparking the Rohingya refugee crisis, or the genocide the military carried out under the government’s veil in Guatemala. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where instead of valuing the vain interactions of our online personas trying to out-buy ourselves into acceptance and determine our self-worth measured by likes and followers, we valued more meaningful human connections? A world without the racism that puts up walls between human beings that would otherwise discover they have so much more in common than different. The kind of racism that makes some proclaim that “all lives matter” while they sit idle as young African Americans are shot or suffocated to death and immigrant families are torn apart. Indeed, it would be nice, and even finer if you could live in that world as a man. In a perfect world, men and women’s idea of a perfect world would be the same, but in reality, women have an additional set of visions of what makes a perfect world, and their world does not include sexism and misogyny. In the words of the man with the dream himself, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Like Imarisha mentions, women might have never seen a world imagined without sexism and misogyny, but lucky for the world, we’ve been taking that first step all along, and will continue to climb our way out of the fiction.

I, like many other women, imagine what our daily lives would be like if those specific evils that haunt us women were to suddenly evaporate. I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about the simple act of walking to and from class without having to clench my pepper spray in my hand, a world where I felt completely free to just walk. I wonder what it would be like to be treated with respect regardless of how I look and how my hair decides to lay that day. A world where my decisions and expressions aren’t attributed to my being a woman or my anatomy. A world where I am not infantilized in the workplace or in the classroom, after all, I’ve stored my girlhood in exchange for womanhood. This world I speak of is nothing like the world I live in, so I have learned clench my fist as I walk, I speak my mind regardless of my bad hair, and although I cannot see the top, I take the steps.

As I take the steps, the freedom I do possess seems to anger my male peers. The way I walk is too confident for their liking. The way my unyielding silence rubs against their unwelcomed compliments is taken as insult. How dare I not say thank you for being acknowledged? Who do I think I am to take up space, to sway my arms without a care. Although I’ve been taught to, I no longer want to hold myself together and shrink into myself. I am the product of all the steps taken by women who came before me. Although the women in my own family have never walked across the stage at graduation, I am here because I am just as worthy of this education, and I am just as worthy of being listened to and learned from.

It is true that we cannot build that which we cannot imagine. The artist sketches out his creation before ever laying a brushstroke on canvas. The writer’s mind collects inspirations and absorbs ideas from everyday life. We cannot build without imagining, but often, the limits of what we can imagine were often not set by us. As a woman, I have come face to face with the limits set by society time and time again. You can be a leader, but be careful not to be pushy or bossy. You can be confident, but not so much that a man might feel threatened by you. As women, we bump into those limits so often that sometimes they run so deep we start to internalize and even embrace them. There are those chains that others impose on you, and those we impose on ourselves. You might ask, but why would someone who knows they are chained not just set themselves free? The truth of the matter is that women don’t hold all the keys, or if we do, they are just a tad out of reach and stretching our arms to reach them, would mean starting a fight with a system that has very defined roles for women.

There are many women taking these blind and hopeful steps. Countless women at all levels creating a path for themselves and others towards equality. The road to equality should not be a solitary journey, although it may feel like that sometimes. In order to create real change and live a closer life to the world we all imagine, we also need men’s help. We need men who are willing to offer a hand as they pull us closer to equality. We need men who will not let other men’s shortfalls become a regular event, especially when they affect girls and women directly. We need men who are willing to defend women’s rights just as much as they defend and guard their masculinity. The only way to move from symbolic solidarity to actual change is to get in motion and to act out and defend women’s rights through action, through community, through art. Action means using any means or talent one possesses and helping women carve out the path to their better world.

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The recent events taking place in our society are lingering echoes of the change that is to come. The echoes of women sharing their #metoo stories, of women and men proclaiming that #timeisup and #neveragain. Women and men are both visualizing a world where women are equal and men are set free from the chains of toxic masculinity. The real world will push back on those ideals, because its shape is so set in stone that it takes grinding and chisels to change it little by little. Step by step. For those of us who never shared our #metoo story, for those of us who are mothers and students, for those of us who are just finding our voice, know that there are steps that have already been taken for all of us, but plenty of space for growth and representation for those men and women that are ready and willing to climb.