For Fathers of Daughters [and Anyone Concerned with Gender Equality]

“When I was pregnant with my third son a young colleague asked me whether I wanted a boy or girl. I responded that I thought that the role model pressure of having a daughter would be hard, so I would be more comfortable with a son. She wagged her finger at me and said, ‘You have it all wrong. The most important thing you can do for women like me is to raise fair men who are equally competent at household activities as they are at working collaboratively with women in the office. That’s the role model you should worry about–your being a strong woman who expects her sons to treat women as equals.'”

-Jules Pieri, “For Fathers of Daughters.” jules.thegrommet.com. October 10, 2019.

Advice for all men, not just fathers.

Conversations with Conservatives: Lies We Tell About Ourselves & Others

  1. I was eating at a place that has communal seating. An older white man, mid-70s I’d guess, declares himself a conservative, and later, within the context of another table with, presumably, fellow conservatives says, lightly paraphrased: “Women would rather not work. The only reason they do so is because of economic necessity.”
  2. An older white man, mid-60s I’d guess, starts up a friendly conversation in small town America and quickly turns the conversation to how great a job President Trump is doing. My lack of enthusiasm makes it clear I don’t share his point of view. In a subsequent conversation, he claims he can walk six miles in an hour. As a runner, six miles an hour is a 10 minute per mile pace, which I do on my easy running days. While I’ve heard that there are Olympic race walkers that can do a mile in six minutes, I think there is no chance that this man can walk that fast. I say so. He doubles down and assures me he can do it, and would I like to join him? I tell him if I were to do so, I’d need to run.

These two exchanges got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. Does Conservative 1 not have any female family or friends that could let him know that economic independence is an important precondition for many kinds of self-actualization, which is just as important to women as to men?

Conservative 2 raises a more interesting question. Is he making this kind of out-sized claim about his ability because he is insecure? Or, do these kinds of lies serve a signaling function? By pretending that I’m impressed and taking this claim at face value, am I letting him know that I value our relationship over some kind of “objective truth”, which signals that I am part of his political tribe? By not doing it, am I signaling the opposite? Was this the point of this obvious, white lie?

And, is this also going on in the first example? Maybe the point of claiming that women don’t want to work is to shore up the rationalization of patriarchy among conservative men and to form them into a tribe of shared interests? The reality may be besides the point.

Extend this out far enough, and it starts looking like a feature of our times: left, right and center. Aren’t antifa leftists, liberal Democrats, and pretty much everyone else with a political viewpoint basically trying to signal that they buy into a particular narrative? And don’t all of these narratives have winners and losers, with the losers being some kind of Other to the tribe with that particular set of beliefs?

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.

Alifa and the Ritual Cutting | Aeon Videos

“Alifa, a young shepherdess in northwestern Somalia, provides an extraordinary view into her dusty, desolate corner of the world in Beerato, a small village in the autonomous region of Somaliland. With her mother dead since her birth and her grandmother far away in the city, Alifa lives with her aunt, learning the ways of the village from the other women…it’s her aunt who has started giving Alifa more food, preparing her for the ritualised female genital cutting that awaits her and nearly every other girl in the region. Alifa hasn’t told anybody, but she is afraid. Informed by the experiences of the Beerato-born writer and activist Amina Souleiman, this film by the New York-based directors Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora is a subtle but uncompromising exploration of what it is to be a woman subject to violent traditions and culture.

Watch at Aeon