20th Century Women

20th Century Women is such a lovely little movie. Part coming of age story. Part a story about aging. Part a story about male/female relationships that explores how difficult these are to navigate, particularly given our collective idiosyncrasies and brokenness. Recommended.

Older and Living Apart Together (LAT)

Open Question: Does living alone position people for having a broader social support network?

“I don’t want to take care of anybody. I want to take care of me,’ said Nadell, who divorced her second husband two decades ago. ‘You want to be friends and get together, when I say it’s okay to get together? Fine. But to be in a relationship where I have to answer to somebody else? Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.'”

As these solo dwellers age, the question becomes what happens when they grow frail and need someone to lean on. DePaulo argued that those who live alone often maintain broader networks of support than married couples do, pointing to a raft of international research. Partners who live separately for some portion of the week still tend to each other in sickness, and are well-positioned as caregivers because “we have our own place to recharge our batteries and avoid the all-too-frequent caretaker burnout,” said Hyman, 57, who has lived away from her partner for 20 years.”

-Zosia Bielski, “The new reality of dating over 65: Men want to live together; women don’t.” The Globe And Mail. November 26, 2019.

Who are the Helots of Modern Masculinity?

The American Psychology Association’s (APA) recently published Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men. These recommendations have raised questions from conservative commentators in the United States about whether psychological practice is turning being male into a mental illness.

Worth noting at the start, there are Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women. So, fundamentally, these two guidelines are acknowledging that different genders, as socially-constructed identities, have different cultures and psychological elements, and they should be treated differently in order to reduce harm. Most conservatives probably agree with that point.

In the interests of gender parity, if gendered differences are enough to have girls and women have their own set of guidelines, then it only makes sense that boys and men should have guidelines as well. The treatment of women have had principles for treating women since 1976. One question is: why did it take the profession so long to come out with a set of guidelines for boys and men?

The fact that there are guidelines does not seem to be the controversial part. The part that conservatives are objecting to is the content that identifies systemic problems of patriarchy as psychologically shaping boys and men in negative ways. Conservatives focus on masculine virtues such as strength, bravery, stoicism and so forth, but they focus only on their positive attributes. These virtues have negative aspects. Bravery in one situation is foolishness in another.

For example, while there are advantages to “the stiff upper lip” of Sparta and the kind of discipline their way of life inculcated into their male population, there are also disadvantages. Sparta was a regimented, military state. They were focused on physical strength over other qualities. Most problematic, their way of life was predicated on slavery of the majority of their population, the helots. No helots, no Spartans.

More generally, a focus on physicality and on mastering emotions such as fear creates individuals that are training to sublimate their emotions and to respond to challenge with physical aggression. Sure, there are contexts where these are valuable virtues and useful skills to develop, but like everything, there is a price to be paid. It is not an unqualified good.

This is precisely what the APA’s guidelines are trying to address. Baked into male culture are not only virtues but also harms, many of which are psychological in nature. This is also true of female culture, although it is less systemic, and therefore, it involves less harm. Psychologists have an obligation to reduce or mitigate the harms of gendered enculturation to the best of their ability as part of their practice.

Acknowledging that there are elements of modern masculinity that are harmful is the first step in reducing that harm. But, we all have trouble acknowledging our faults and weaknesses. No one wishes to believe that they are a bad person. Although if we are honest with ourselves, we can each acknowledge that the seeds of evil and/or bad behavior are in our own heart as much as in anyone else’s. To deny that fundamental fact and that we are part of the problem is to entertain idealized notions of ourselves that not only harm us but others.

Who are the helots of modern masculinity? Wouldn’t it be just to set them free? Slavery harms everyone it touches, Masters live in fear and that fear harms society as a whole, transmogrifying it to a grotesquerie.

Are Baths Too Hot for Testicles?

“‘So now he’s like crouching in the water with his shins and knees and forearms and elbows submerged, and his torso and butt and head all above the water still. So he has to roll over somehow and get his body into the water. But I’m stumped on the topology of how ‘balls hit the water LAST.”…He continued, ‘I just feel like the balls are basically in the middle of the X, Y, and Z axes of the body and there’s no way to make them go anywhere last. Head, torso, balls, legs. No matter how you dunk a body in water the balls can’t be the last in.'”

—Kelly Conway. “Are Baths Too Hot For Testicles?The Cut. August 21, 2018.

A deep dive into an important question you’ve probably never thought to ask. The illustrations by the author may be the best thing about this article.

Masculinity and ‘The Man’

“I got gas in the tank / I got money in the bank / I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man.

I got skin in the game / I don’t feel no pain / I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man.”

—The Killers, “The Man.”

Catchy single. While there is a sense of poking fun at defining masculinity in terms of strength, power, fame, money, or even a slight association of divinity, i.e, “[r]ight hand to God”, these ideas are often central to “male culture” in the United States (and elsewhere). Feminism, despite its many faults, does offer men the possibility of transcending the limitations imposed by popular notions of masculinity, which is no small thing.