Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's Time to End the "Boy's Don't Cry" Model of Raising Our Kids

When I was small, maybe three or four, a man came around our neighborhood with a camera and a horse. For X dollars you could have your child's picture taken sitting on the back of the horse, dressed in western outfits (for the boys it was requisite hat, gun belt, chaps, and boots w/ spurs).

So my mother comes into the house and, of course, she wants me on the horse (my dad had the same picture taken of him around 40 years earlier). I look out the screen door at this enormous creature in our front yard (having NEVER seen a horse in person) and I want nothing to do with this adventure. Mother insists, I resist, more insistence, more resistance, and then I am crying. Someplace there is a picture of me in all the cowboy gear, crying - and I distinctly remember my mother telling me: "Boy's don't cry."

Looking back, I'm thinking, "Like hell, those were real tears. And that was real fear."

One might have thought that when the "Greatest Generation" stopped raising kids (my peers were children of Boomers, but not me), that those old masculine myths would die out. You would be wrong.

But they need to end, with this generation or the next. When we learn to block, stuff, or ignore our feelings, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of interpersonal failure, mood disorders, anger disorders, addictions, and a whole host of other issues, including heart disease and other stress-related disorders.

As boys age into their teen years, they will generally embrace the cultural hypermasculinity of being a teen male filled with testosterone, and any "soft" feelings will get stuffed so that they can fit with their peers. But if they received a foundation in which they could cry, allow the feeling to move through them and dissipate, which is what it will do, they will have this awareness in their bodies that emotions are not dangerous, they can be felt and tolerated.

Those boys who grow up with mothers like mine never learn that lesson until they are (sooner or later) seeing a therapist to help them keep relationships, control their temper, fight the depression, or kick an addiction. This need never happen.

More and more experts are weighing on this and saying, "Let the boy cry, it's good for him."

This article comes from Good Men Project.

Expert Says It’s Good to Let Boys Cry

There’s a tearing inside me when I see my older son well up with tears in front of his peers, or as a result of a loss or mistake. The internal war is between what I know and believe is best for him, which is to let him cry and comfort him and help guide him through the sadness to resolution, or to tell him to be strong and stop crying.

Now, I know it’s bad to tell him to stop crying, but as his mom, I want to make his life somewhat easier and I can’t help but worry about him being teased or even indulging his emotions too much. I would worry about the exact same thing if he were a girl—in fact I suspect I’d worry about it even more. Also, to me, it’s easier to become a person who is able to get over obstacles quickly. Funny thing is, as far as everything I understand, kids whose feelings are validated do tend to recover faster than those whose feelings are denied.

I think that my first instinct, that of allowing his feelings to be validated and consoled, wins out almost all the time, but there are times when it’s tough for me. In wanting to protect him from life’s pains and struggles, sometimes I run up against what society has taught me will be best for him. And I grew up in a very “tough it out” time and community, it can be hard to shake that voice in my head.
Today The Washington Post offers an excellent advice piece from clinical social worker Jennifer Kogan, who works with parents regarding their children. The piece, Why it’s Good to Let Boys Cry, explains recent studies indicating that  boys who are emotionally more in touch with their feelings are better able to handle feelings of depression later on.

Kogan explains the research like this:
A 2010 study followed 426 boys through middle school to investigate the extent to which boys favor stereotypically male qualities, such as emotional stoicism and physical toughness, over stereotypically feminine qualities, such as emotional openness and communication, and whether they have any influence on their mental well-being.
Results showed that as boys progressed through adolescence they tended to further embrace hyper-masculine stereotypes. But boys who remained close to their mothers did not act as tough and were more emotionally available. The research, conducted by Arizona State University professor Carlos Santos, showed that closeness to fathers did not seem to have the same effect.
This detail is important data to have because male suicide rates reportedly start to rise by age 16. In addition to combating depression it seems evident that boys who stay connected to their feelings will be able to express their anger in healthier, more productive ways.
Did the same thing catch your eye as did mine? That sons who were close to mothers were more emotionally available? Our first reaction to the statement that closeness with fathers didn’t seem to have the same results is to say that this discounts the role of fathers.

However, I think we have to remember that Kogan is talking specifically about emotional availability, not other important skills and traits that boys get from closeness with fathers. Also, the role of fathers is rapidly changing, and this generation may not be caught up with those changes. These kids were born 20 years ago, most likely, and while there were are always many different types of fathers, the “man up” model of fatherhood has reigned supreme for a long time. It’s really only recently that parents have started to understand the importance of letting boys cry, or express other “non-manly” emotions.

In our family, my husband is much more likely to be the one to rush to my kids’ side when they’re sad or hurt. Not that I’m cold, but as I said at the beginning, I do feel this need to make them feel strong and independent. I try to learn from my husband about how to let them be sad, and then guide them to a swift recovery—because that swift recovery is important, too. We try to ask, “are you okay?” or say, “it’s going to be okay,” as opposed to saying, “you’re okay” or “you’re fine.”
I believe the results of a study like this will be different in the future when the changing role of men and fathers catches up to the research.

Kogan offers 4 great pieces of advice in the Washington Post article, but this one stands out most to me as something I can learn from, and perhaps many other parents will relate to:
3. Be ready and available to listen to your son without asking questions or offering a lot of advice. Kids will often open up when parents say less and listen more.
What do you think of this research? How about Kogan’s advice? Does one strike you as particularly resonant in raising boys?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, by Philip G. Zimbardo & Nikita Duncan

There is an interesting new book out from TED Books, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (only $2.99 for the Kindle), by Philip G. Zimbardo & Nikita Duncan. The book is based on Zimbardo's widely popular 2011 TED Talk.

As of 5/29/12, the book has received seven 5-star ratings and seven 1-star ratings at Amazon (out of 15 ratings) - seems people love it or hate it.

About the authors:

Dr. Philip Zimbardo is an icon in the field, being Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University, a two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association, and the past president of the American Psychological Association. Zimbardo is an internationally recognized scholar, educator, researcher and media personality, winning numerous awards and honors in each of these domains.  He has been a Stanford University professor since 1968, having taught previously at Yale, NYU and Columbia.  Zimbardo's career is noted for giving psychology away to the public through his popular PBS-TV series, Discovering Psychology, along with many text and trade books, among his 300 publications.

For the last few years Nikita Duncan has been experimenting with various ideas and styles in an attempt to produce visually and psychologically interesting paintings. Most of her work represents the energy, feelings, and non-visual aspects of people and experiences, however she also enjoy capturing landscapes and figures. She believes people connect with others by sharing their lives, stories, and perspectives. Through conversation she has come to realize that there are as many truths as there are people and all of us experience the same things in completely different ways.

Zimbardo and Duncan sat for a brief interview at the TED blog, and they also wrote a column for Huffington Post in support of the book.

New TED ebook warns of the demise of guys

Have boys bottomed out? A new TED Book says yes. The culprit: the rampant overuse of video games and online porn.

In their provocative ebook The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, celebrated psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say that an addiction to video games and online porn have created a generation of shy, socially awkward, emotionally removed, and risk-adverse young men who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school, and employment. Taking a critical look at a problem which is tearing at families and societies everywhere, The Demise of Guys suggests that our young men are suffering from a new form of “arousal addiction,” and introduce a bold new plan for getting them back on track. The book is based on a popular TED Talk which Zimbardo did in 2011, and includes extensive research as well as a TED-exclusive survey that drew responses from more than 20,000 men. We recently spoke with Zimbardo and Duncan about their ideas.

Why are guys failing?
Duncan: There are many factors that play into a general loss of motivation in guys. If you go beyond the symptoms — performing poorly in school, failing to transition into adulthood, flaming out socially and sexually with women — and into the causes, guys are living in an environment that’s hostile towards men. We make men feel expendable, unneeded, and like they can’t be themselves. When you think about the fact that 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys, for example, you can’t help but wonder about why there is such a disproportion. No doubt there’s some legitimate cases of ADHD, but we’re basically telling high-energy males that it’s not okay to be that way and there’s something wrong with them. We’ve also canceled most gym and recreation time in schools — an important way guys used to be able to release some of that energy. The list goes on.

What age group of men are we talking about?
Zimbardo: We focus primarily on guys in their teens and 20s, although guys of all ages are certainly affected.

What’s causing this? Tech? Media?
Duncan: Technology is not the issue. Rather, it’s the misuse of technology. There’s a general overuse of video games and porn — especially in social isolation — which is not balanced out by other activities like exercise, face-to-face socialization with peers, or individual time with any kind of male mentor. The average teenage guy spends 44 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen and half an hour in one-on-one conversation with his father. And that’s the boys who actually have a father around. Fatherlessness is another huge factor; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness — 40% of children today are born to unwed mothers, the rate is 50% for women under 30. This in turn affects guys’ school performance. Boys that grow up without fathers around do not do as well in school and are not as well adjusted socially. They’re also far more likely to have attention or mood disorders and more likely to play excessive amounts of video games.

Each generation seems to think that the generation following them is headed for ruin. Couldn’t this just be adult fears based on not understanding the youth?
Zimbardo: There’s no doubt every generation is different from the last. However, this generation is very different from any other before it. Guys’ brains are being forever altered with prescription drugs, illegal drugs that have ever-increasing potency, and overstimulation from enticing images and games. All of this make them less motivated to deal with a quickly evolving reality. Young men are getting left behind socially, sexually, and financially.

Has something changed to worsen the challenges that young men have in creating solid interpersonal relationships?
Zimbardo: The most popular answers from our 20,000-person survey was that widespread hardcore Internet porn is wreaking havoc on relationships. Women said it’s made guys emotionally unavailable, and guys said it made them less interested in pursuing a relationship in the first place. The terrible economy doesn’t help, because of the current financial situation many guys can no longer see a family in their future. Relationships used to be viewed as a precursor to setting up a family together, but today, with fewer reasons to become romantically committed, young men don’t need to look beyond women as sex objects.

Can we slow the demise of guys?
Yes. These trends can be reversed, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and involvement from parents — both mom and dad, educators, video game producers, and guys themselves. We started a forum on our website to get these discussions going.

The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It is part of the TED Books series, which is available for the Kindle and Nook as well as on Apple’s iBookstore for $2.99.

* * * * * * *

From the Huffington Post:

Why Society Is Failing Young Boys

Dr. Philip Zimbardo

and Nikita Duncan

Posted: 05/25/2012

Have you noticed how guys are being portrayed in movies lately? Unless you've been living under a rock you've seen at least one of these: Knocked Up, Failure to Launch, Hall Pass, Old School, or the Jackass series.

All the leading male characters are presented as expendable losers usually incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, often plotting intricate but seldom realized plans to get laid, and generally running the opposite direction of any kind of commitment. Not only do they avoid the future, sometimes they attempt to re-live past glory in order to avoid living in the present. It seems these guys don't have much value to contribute to society beyond their ability to entertain the other male characters, and of course, the audience.

It might be that the media is just reflecting real-life trends: in record numbers guys are flaming out academically, wiping out with girls socially, and failing sexually with women later on. But what if the reverse is also true?

As entertaining as these movies can be, what are the effects these stereotypes of men have on the young guys growing up watching them? When we conducted a 20,000 person survey for our book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, we wanted to find out the factors contributing to motivational and social problems in today's young men. The most popular response we got across the broad spectrum of answers - nearly two-thirds of participants agreed - it was because of conflicting messages from media, institutions, parents, and peers about what is acceptable and desirable male behavior.

This means guys aren't sure what it means to be a man, that the people that need to be showing them the way aren't available guides, and it's affecting their ability to succeed. Fathers especially have dropped the ball; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness. Forty percent of all children in America are born to single mothers; that rate is 50% for mothers under 30, and 70% for African-Americans. While moms are great at giving unconditional love regardless of their child's performance, dads motivate sons to try harder, not to give up, to work for success. But even for those with dads, the average school-age boy in America spends half an hour a week in one-to-one conversation with his father. Compare that with an average of 44 hours a week spent in front of a television or computer screen.

Without better male role models in real life, guys become confused about what constitutes acceptable male behavior. They don't recognize the images presented in video games, movies, television, and porn as caricatures. Recent research conducted by Maya Götz and Dafna Lemish revealed that boys are more vulnerable than girls to absorbing the messages of media. Girls will usually pick and choose what they like about a certain story and incorporate it into their daydreams, but boys, will imagine themselves in the position of their heroes and want to experience a story similar to the original version.

Boys aren't spending enough time with fathers or mentors who can show them the way they're supposed to behave as healthy men and it's no longer an isolated problem. This is the first time in American history that boys are having less education than their fathers. Many young men see their future as bleak and about 70% of them don't feel they'll be as capable as their peers in other first world countries.

In the 2006 PBS documentary, Raising Cain: Boys in Focus, we learned that shockingly, 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys. This brain-behavior interaction is also impacted by the social variable of fatherhood. A 2010 study of over a million Swedish children ages 6 to 19 found that kids raised by single parents were 54% more likely to be on ADHD medication, and the National Center for Health Statistics reports that a child of unwed or divorced parents who lives only with their mother is 375% more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems.

There is now evidence for reciprocal causality for attention problems and impulsiveness, and video game playing. Researchers at Iowa State University and Singapore examined over 3,000 children and adolescents for a 3-year period and found that even when controlling for gender, age, race, SES, and earlier attention problems, kids who spend more time playing video games have a higher rate of attention problems. They also found that kids who are more impulsive or start out with more attention problems will then spend more time playing video games, thus leading to a higher likelihood of subsequent additional attention problems or impulsivity. Video gaming has also been associated with decreased school performance, desensitization to violence, and can influence how one learns and socializes due to a lack of balance between time spent gaming and engaging in other activities, like socializing with friends and girls.

Schools too, are increasingly becoming a place where men aren't present either as mentors or role models. According to the National Education Association the number of male teachers is approaching a 40-year low. With reading assignments with heroines, like Wuthering Heights, and the removal of recess and hands-on learning, it's becoming difficult for boys to find any subject in school that's interesting to them or that stimulates their imaginations.

Video games have become an enchanting alternative for guys' fantasies. Given the choice between traditional schoolwork and endlessly exciting and varied video games there's little contest. The average teenage guy plays about 13 hours of video games a week. This adds up to 676 hours a year, or the entire month of February. Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., Director of Games Research and Development at Palo Alto's Institute of the Future, estimates that the average young person will be spending 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21. To put this in context, it takes the average college student half that time - 4,800 hours - to get a bachelor's degree.

Exacerbating the problem for boys and young men is the new availability, 24/7, of freely accessible Internet pornography. Excessive and isolated porn use has become a new form of arousal addiction in which one needs variety to avoid habituation, and the porn industry, like the video game industry, is ready and willing to offer an almost infinite array of variety in their content.

It's time for men to step up and take responsibility for our boys. It's time for moms not to be content that their son is "safe" up his room, doing whatever, but to engage him more fully in conversations, to encourage him to track his activities for a week, to have friends over, and be a more social animal. The current generation of boys and men need more real male role models, courageous, compassionate and heroic ones, and less modeled after the losers in Knocked Up, and with fewer Hall Passes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day - Perspectives . . . .

According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day (because people had begun decorating, both during and after the Civil War, the graves of family members who had been killed):
On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic - the organization for Union Civil War veterans - Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" should be observed nationwide.[14] It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; according to folklore, the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle.[15]

Events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near the battlefields and therefore mostly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the War - and at first to rehash the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the "baptism of blood" on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s much of the rancor was gone, and the speeches praised the brave soldiers both Blue and Gray. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.
Over the decades, Memorial Day became a national holiday and a community celebration of our military and its fallen heroes. "Taps" is the somber traditional song played in Memorial Day events:
Taps as played on the bugle by the United States Army Band
While I appreciate the need and the desire to honor those who have served and died for their country, today I want to offer a slightly different perspective - one that I have only come to over the past 15 years or so. Additionally, in the pictures I am including in this post, I want to highlight the humanity of these men and women in such inhumane circumstances.

When I was young (teens and twenties) I tended to think of soldiers as brain-washed kids whose souls had been removed in basic training so that they could be made into efficient killing machines (think of the basic training part of Full Metal Jacket). Maybe part of that view was shaped by my father's insistence that I follow the family tradition and join the Navy or the Marines (all males on my dad's side have done this as far back as anyone knows), and my sense of relief (yes, I mean this) when he died before I had to make the choice to do as he wanted and be miserable, or refuse and be rejected as a wuss and a coward.

I was not cut out to be military. I knew that as a child, and my life has born out that instinct.

But I know now that the men and women who serve are often horrified by the things they have to do in combat, and with a few exceptions (those who are not mentally well), killing is the last thing they want to do. Some studies have shown that during WWII and earlier wars, as many as 80% of soldiers did not fire their weapons in combat situation (these numbers come from U.S. Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, whose methods and veracity have been challenged). Marshall felt that the soldiers simply could not take another life - and, as draftees, they had not been trained to do so.

By Vietnam that had changed, with up to 95% firing in combat situations. Part of the reason this changed was due to the training they received (from Greater Good, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman):
Since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare, conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops. The triad of methods used to enable men to overcome their innate resistance to killing includes desensitization, classical and operant conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms.

By the time a soldier does kill in combat, he has rehearsed the process so many times that he is able to, at one level, deny to himself that he is actually killing another human being. One British veteran of the Falklands, trained in the modern method, told Holmes that he “thought of the enemy as nothing more or less than Figure II [man-shaped] targets.”

There is “a natural disinclination to pull the trigger… when your weapon is pointed at a human,” says Bill Jordan, a career U.S. Border Patrol officer and veteran of many gunfights. “To aid in overcoming this resistance it is helpful if you can will yourself to think of your opponent as a mere target and not as a human being. In this connection you should go further and pick a spot on your target. This will allow better concentration and further remove the human element from your thinking.”
As it turns out, however, killing people carries a cost to those who do so. The numbers are alarming, with between 18 and 54 percent of the 2.8 million soldiers who did tours of duty in Vietnam suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) These numbers are significantly higher than previous wars. A 1988 study (Jeanne and Steven Stellman at Columbia University), the first one to look at the environmental influence on PTSD, found that those most likely to suffer PTSD served in high intensity combat situations (again from Greater Good):
These veterans suffer far higher incidence of divorce, marital problems, tranquilizer use, alcoholism, joblessness, heart disease, and ulcers. As far as PTSD symptoms are concerned, soldiers who were in noncombat situations in Vietnam were found to be statistically indistinguishable from those who spent their entire enlistment in the U.S.
The PTSD rates seems to be even higher now (and we may not know the full extent of the problem until 5 or 10 years after these wars are over) - but the walls between the soldiers who carry this wound and getting some help are often daunting.

During the Bush administration, the VA was directed to significantly reduce its diagnoses of PTSD, an order that was overturned by Obama. But the challenges to getting service remain, not least of which is the shortage of social workers (the VA does not yet hire counselors, marriage and family therapists, or licensed substance abuse counselors, despite regulations having been changed to include counselors and other masters level therapists).

According to this 2010 article from the American Observer:
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War . . . . On the anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan the veteran's group declared its aim to halt the redeployment of soldiers with psychological health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder , traumatic brain injuries and military sexual trauma.

Veterans describe various institutional challenges that lie along two fronts—getting soldiers the treatment and time to heal, but first, simply ensuring that soldiers who suffer from trauma are identified. They attribute the challenges to stigma, inadequate screening, insufficient resources, and ultimately the military, whose ultimate goal is returning service members to active duty.
You can listen to one soldier's story, that of Matt Southworth:
Listen to Matt Southworth talk about his experience
Top officials in the VA, as late as 2009/2010, do not even believe PTSD is a legitimate diagnosis. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the VA, Michael McLendon, was quoted in a Boston Review (Nov/Dec 2009) article as follows:
[PTSD] is not a diagnosis based on empirical evidence, but rather . . . it is an artificial construct erected by a vote of selected psychiatrists. This does not mean that there are not problems that certain individuals do have [and] issues that need to be addressed. But rather, it means that we have created policies and programs that have not served veterans well.
This lack of support is part of the problem. More than any other group, the military should understand the psychological cost of killing. But treating PTSD takes time and that costs money when veterans are involved. Part of why Bush and the VA wanted to minimize the numbers of soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD was that it was adding up to a lot of money. It's much easier to deny their symptoms, give them a collection of medications (Alternet, 2010) that amounts to a chemical straightjacket [Paxil (an antidepressant), Klonopin (a mood stabilizer), and Seroquel (a controversial anti-psychotic drug)], and send them back for another tour of duty.

Medications can be necessary for some survivors, but individual and/or group therapy is even more important. Returning for another tour of duty is NOT a good clinical choice, even if it seems to be a good financial choice on paper (retraining a soldier lost to PTSD can be very expensive - but we ask them to serve as volunteers, and promise to take care of them, so spend the damn money to train someone else, and spend the damn money to help the soldier with PTSD).

The lack of real or perceived social support is often part of the problem.

In a 2003 study from Karestan C. Koenen (VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston Medical Center), Jeanne Mager Stellman and Steven D. Stellman (Columbia University), and John F. Sommer Jr. (The American Legion), conducted over a 14-year period with Vietnam veterans, the key to recovery from PTSD is perceived social support.
High combat exposure, perceived negative community attitudes at homecoming, minority race, depression symptoms at Time 1, and more anger at Time 1 predicted a more chronic course. Community involvement at Time 1 was protective and associated with decreased risk at Time 2. Discomfort in disclosing Vietnam experiences was associated with an increased risk for developing PTSD but did not predict its course. Combat exposure predicted PTSD course more strongly than any other risk factor. Findings suggest recovery from PTSD is significantly influenced by perceived social support.
Social support is exactly what the Vietnam vets did not get. I recently spoke with a 73-year-old veteran of that war, who had served in a combat role, who said, with sadness and some tears, that no one had ever thanked him for his service to his country - not family, not friends, and not co-workers. He said that experience made him bitter and hurt him deeply.

Things have shifted in the last couple of decades. Many Americans opposed both Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan, but even among far left liberals the slogan was, "Hate the War, Love the Soldier."

So on this memorial day, let us praise the fallen, those who gave their lives for their country, but let us also love the men and women who have returned from any and all of our wars with psyches broken by the horrors they have seen and committed. No person should have to carry that burden alone, or in silence.

Where the government is failing these walking casualties of war, let us take the lead and give them the social support that can make the difference between a lifetime of suffering or the promise of healing and a return to a life in the world, not apart from it, an outsider in one's own home and country.

These men and women have paid a deep price in service to their country, our country, we owe them some compassion and some support.

Want to help?  
(inclusion of listing here does not imply endorsement) 
  • Soldier's Best Friend is non-profit dedicated to providing "United States military veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with a trained Service or Therapeutic Companion Dog, most of these dogs of which will be rescued from local shelters."
  • VA Voluntary Service - Volunteer to help care for wounded veterans.
  • Angels of Mercy / No Soldier Left in Need - Donate clothes to wounded soldiers returning stateside, or donate to long-term rehabilitation programs.
  • Wounded Warriors Fund - Donates everything from phone cards to TVs to wounded soldiers.
  • Adopt A US Soldier -  “Adoption” is as easy as writing letters or as involved as sending care packages. 
There are also many other ways to help.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why Some Men Like Dumb Women Sometimes

When looking for casual sex, some men have a real preference for dumb women, or more to the point, women who seem to be less than fully conscious: drunk, tired, dimwitted, high, and so on. It's not the guys' fault, according to some researchers from the University of Texas-Austin - they are wired that way and its called the sexual exploitability hypothesis.

wrote the article for Slate. He points out some weaknesses in the studies (there are two) and raises some good questions. However, in the 2nd study, which was published first, they sought out some personality characteristics in their male subjects. The men who were more, shall we say, slutty, also turned out to be "deficient" in personal empathy and warmth - and these were the guys who most easily and consistently noted the female “exploitability” cues. A good example is Ben Roethlisbrger (in the photo above).

So the moral of this story is? Promiscuous men with narcissistic tendencies will seek out "exploitable" women for one-night stands. These guys are predators, and they are only a couple shades of gray short of date rape (although an argument can and has been made that knowingly having sex with a woman too intoxicated to consent with awareness is date rape). 

Do Men Find Dumb-Looking Women More Attractive? A new study says yes.

Women drinking at a bar.
Are tipsy women more attractive?
Photograph by Thinkstock Images.

Ask a straight man, “How do you like your women?” and it’s unlikely he’ll answer, “Dumb and sleepy.” But according to new findings, these characteristics—and any other traits suggesting that the lady isn’t particularly alert—are precisely what the human male has evolved to look for in a one-night-stand.

In an article soon to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior, University of Texas–Austin graduate student Cari Goetz and her colleagues explored what they called the sexual exploitability hypothesis. The hypothesis is based on the differences between male and female reproductive strategies as humans evolved. For ancestral women, casual intercourse with an emotionally unattached man who had no clear intention of sticking around to raise any resulting offspring constituted a massive genetic gamble. By contrast, for a man with somewhere around 85 million sperm cells churned out every day—per testicle—the frivolous expenditure of gametes was far less detrimental to his genetic interests. Goetz and her team began with the assumption that—because our brains evolved long before prophylactics entered the picture—female cognition is still sensitive to the pregnancy-related consequences of uncommitted sex and women remain more reluctant than men to engage in it. They set out to test the idea that any indication that a woman’s guard is lowered—that she’s “sexually exploitable”—is a turn-on for your average man. “[T]he assessment of a woman’s immediate vulnerability,” surmise the authors, “may be central to the activation of psychological mechanisms related to sexual exploitation.”

This is an inflammatory hypothesis, of course, and the language employed in the field doesn’t help matters. It’s worth noting that in the evolutionary psychology sense, the word exploitable simply means that a woman is willing or can be more easily pressured into having sex—which takes her own desires, rather disturbingly, out of the equation. Even if she’s the aggressor, a prostitute, or a certifiable nymphomaniac, having casual sex with her would still constitute “exploiting” her (or at least her body), according to this model.

So how did this team put their sexual “exploitability” hypothesis to the test? Goetz and her colleagues planned to call a bunch of undergraduate males into the lab and ask them to rate a set of women in terms of attractiveness based on their photographs. But first they needed to pick the appropriate images. To figure out which sorts of women might be deemed most receptive to a sexual advance or most vulnerable to male pressure or coercion, they asked a large group of students (103 men and 91 women) to nominate some “specific actions, cues, body postures, attitudes, and personality characteristics” that might indicate receptivity or vulnerability. These could be psychological in nature (e.g., signs of low self-esteem, low intelligence, or recklessness), or they might be more contextual (e.g., fatigue, intoxication, separation from family and friends). A third category includes signs that the woman is physically weak, and thus more easily overpowered by a male (e.g., she’s slow-footed or small in stature). According to the authors, rape constitutes one extreme end of the “exploitation” spectrum—cheesy pickup lines the other.

By asking students for the relevant cues, the experimenters reasoned, they’d keep their own ideas about what makes a woman “exploitable” from coloring their study. When all was said and done, the regular folks in the lab had come up with a list of 88 signs that—in their expert undergraduate opinions—a woman might be an especially good target for a man who wanted to score. Here’s a sampling of what they came up with: “lip lick/bite,” “over-shoulder look,” “sleepy,” “intoxicated,” “tight clothing,” "fat," "short," "unintelligent,” “punk,” “attention-seeking,” and “touching breast.”
Next, Goetz and her colleagues searched the Internet for publicly available images of women displaying each of these 88 cues. Once they had pictures of women licking their lips, partying, circling their areolas, and all the rest, they cross-checked them with a separate group of students who surmised that—at least in their subjective views—the images indeed matched the cues. The specific coding details aren’t provided, unfortunately, but presumably these independent raters just used their best guesses to determine what an “attention-seeking” or “unintelligent” woman looked like.

Now it was time for the test. A fresh group of 76 male participants was presented with these images in a randomized sequence and asked what they thought of each woman’s overall attractiveness, how easy it would be to “exploit” her using a variety of tactics (everything from seduction to physical force), and her appeal to them as either a short-term or a long-term partner. The results were mixed. Physical cues of vulnerability—the pictures of, say, short women and hefty ones—had no effect. These women were not necessarily seen as easy lays, nor were they judged as especially appealing partners for either a casual fling or a lifelong marriage. On the other hand, the more psychological and contextual cues—pictures of dimwitted- or immature-seeming women, for example, or of women who looked sleepy or intoxicated, did seem to have an effect: Not surprisingly, men rated them as being easy to bed. But more importantly, they were also perceived as being more physically attractive than female peers who seemed more lucid or quick-witted. This perceived attractiveness effect flipped completely when the participants were asked to judge these women as potential long-term partners. In other words, the woozy ladies were seen as sexy and desirable—but only for fleeting venereal meetings. They lost their luster entirely when the men were asked to rate these same women’s attractiveness as prospective girlfriends or wives. The possible evolutionary logic behind this interaction is fairly straightforward: In the latter case, the man would risk becoming the cuckoldee, not the cuckolder. (Of course you could also argue that men might rather marry a woman who looked like she could hold up her end of the conversation over French toast.)

In a follow-up study (that ended up being published first), the authors tried to add some nuance to their sexual exploitability hypothesis. Graduate student David Lewis led a project to narrow in on the specific type of man who would be most alert to the sort of "exploitability" cues outlined above. Not every man, it seems, is equally proficient at homing in on these weak spots in women. So he and his colleagues asked 72 straight men to evaluate the same photos as before, and in the same way. But this time, the researchers also measured some key personality traits in the male raters, as well as the extent to which they desired and pursued uncommitted sex. The students were asked, for instance: “With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse without having interest in a long-term committed relationship with that person,” and, “How often do you experience sexual arousal when you are in contact with someone you are not in a committed romantic relationship with?”

The main finding to emerge from this follow-up study was that the more promiscuity-minded men who happened also to have deficiencies in personal empathy and warmth were the ones most vigilant and responsive to female “exploitability” cues. Men without this critical calculus—say, a disagreeable man who prefers monogamy, or a caring one who likes to play the field—are more likely to have these cues fly right past their heads and miss the opportunity to capitalize on an “easy lay.” So rather than the sexual exploitability hypothesis summing up the male brain as one big ball of undifferentiated stereotype, the caveat here is that there are multiple subtypes of reproductive strategies in men. Not all men are pricks, in other words.

It’s easy to see the sexual exploitability hypothesis as misogynistic, but I don’t believe the authors are advancing a chauvinistic ideology. Take those kinds of complaints up with natural selection, not the theorists untangling its sometimes-wicked ways. The authors are trying—admirably, I think—to decipher an implicit social algorithm in the hopes of better understanding gender relations.

Having said that, the studies to date are also far from perfect. There’s the obvious criticism that ancestral women didn’t have mojitos and martinis to loosen their tenuous hold on chastity, and so ethanol-fueled conceptions couldn’t have exerted any kind of selection pressure. Yet knowing evolutionary psychologists, the equally obvious countercriticism is that modern women’s inebriation is just an exaggerated version of altered states of consciousness that human beings have indeed experienced for hundreds of thousands of years. More important are methodological concerns.

For example, given that the photos of women were collected online, confounds are inevitable. Do photos of boozed-up young women posted on the Internet simply happen to depict more physically attractive females—ones who’ve dolled themselves up for parties, say—than the sober head shots of those who party less? It’s hard to believe that this would be the same for all the “exploitability” cues (such as “sleepy”) but the same problems would certainly apply to cues such as “tight clothes” and “come hither look.” To control for things like facial symmetry, it would have been better, in my opinion, to have the same model exhibiting a targeted sampling of the 88 cues generated by the original raters.

It also seems to me that although men may lower their standards when it comes to judging women for casual sex, even the creepiest, horniest, coldest man has his aesthetic limits. This could be why the proposed physical signs of “exploitability” —say, being obese or a dwarf—didn’t pan out in the first study. According to a strict interpretation of the authors’ model, after all, a woman with even profound mental handicaps (such as being comatose while on life support or having an IQ commensurate with that of a sickly possum) would make her pretty damn hot. That just doesn’t ring true. I’m going out on a limb here, but from their evolutionary theoretical perspective, perhaps some minimal degree of genetic normalcy or maternal competence, even in “easy” women, is key. According to their model, given that the unconscious goal for these males is to spread their genes without being tethered to paternal responsibilities, even the most incapacitated of women should, at the very least, have enough brain cells firing to raise a healthy child to the age of maturity.

I think it’s fair to say that the findings are consistent with the authors’ sexual exploitability hypothesis—and evolved sex differences in reproductive strategies more generally. But here we run into one of the consistent criticisms of evolutionary psychology, which is that there can be a “just-so story” to explain every data set. Perhaps the effects reported by Goetz and her team can be interpreted just as well from a non-evolutionary perspective. (If you think so, I’d be curious to hear your ideas in the comments section below.) However you interpret them, results like these can feel self-evident, given that “obviously” men would find drunk and air-headed women easy to screw. But we also must be on the lookout for our own retrospective biases: After all, I’m not so sure most people would have predicted that men would also find such women more attractive. All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Frank G. Karioris - The Subject and the Object of Your Gender

This is an older post from The Good Men Project site, but I think it's a worthwhile read, even though it has a much more (needlessly) academic tone than most articles on GMP. Karioris seems to be arguing for men to take back their definition of masculinity that, at least in the academic world, has been almost solely defined by feminists and feminism.

His use of the subject-object divide in this context is interesting. His view is that women, from their own subjective perspective, have defined masculinity as an object in their experience of men. Many men have accepted that definition as an objective truth and adopted it as their definition of masculinity, even when it conflicts with their own subjective experience of being a man. We need, as men, the argument goes, to reclaim our subjectivity and create our own unique masculinities.

He notes the role of feminism in trying to help women becomes the subjects of their gender identity - which is true. Over the 50 or 60 years that feminism has been working on that cause (and many women have become the subjects of their own lives rather than the object in a man's world), there has also been an increasing objectification of women as sex objects in particular, especially in the media.

It's worth noting that as men are finally launching a nascent movement toward becoming subjects (as I've mentioned before, most men have been defined and oppressed over the centuries by those few men with wealth, so we have not been our own subjects - we were subjects of the king), men are also becoming sexualized objects in the media, or more so than in the past.

The Subject and the Object of Your Gender

February 27, 2012 By


The primary concept presented here highlights the disjunctive dichotomy between being the Subject of one’s story or the Object of someone else’s; which connects to a multifaceted conception of masculinity while examining the idea that gender writing has sometimes silenced men’s voice, creating a faux marionette of masculinity.

Every story has a subject around which the narrative centralizes. Beyond the subject lie people and objects, which the subject encounters and defines through a particular lens. Paulo Freire, an educational philosopher, explains that the distinction between Subject and Object is a system which disempowers the Object and furthers their domination.

To be the Subject requires the ability to define one’s self in context with an active participation in the construction of an identity. In opposition to the Subject is the Object, which is defined by something outside of it and which has no control of its selfhood. To be the Subject is both a condition of determining one’s own identity, and requisite for empowerment.

“If men and women are searchers and their vocation is humanization [becoming Subjects,] sooner or later they may perceive the contradiction” of being Objects and will “then engage themselves in the struggle for their liberation” [3]. In this regard, feminism has taken up the banner for female liberation. This struggle for liberation, and the desire to be a Subject, has led to a redefinition of femininity and in the same breath has opened up the idea that masculinity can likewise be reassessed.

The implications of this change is that a person, by defining their own identity, alters the manner in which identities are defined and thought of, producing a movable construction of gender. A critical idea that has been central to Feminism is the belief that one “must take care not to (mis)represent the diverse positions of different women, nor collapse the complex multiple social identities of women into a simplistic notion of gender identity” [4].

This recognition of the multiplicity of gender identities is a starting ground for Subjects. Diane Elson says women are not “a homogeneous group with the same interests and viewpoint everywhere.” Feminism has tried to create a space for women to determine their own identity, allowing women to be the authors of their own stories.

While the idea of a singularity of femininity has been dispelled, masculinity is still seen as such. As female ‘icons’ such as Barbie have been dethroned, the unattainable bastions of masculinity (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood) have remained. This unrealistic version of masculinity is problematic and often takes the form of a universal masculinity, posed as the oppressive force towards women.

Judith Butler says: “The political assumption that there must be a universal basis for feminism, one which must be found in an identity assumed to exist cross-culturally, often accompanies the notion that the oppression of women has some singular form discernible in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination.”

She continues the idea of a singularity of gender and masculinity, stating: “The urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism’s own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated a shortcut to a categorial or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce women’s common subjugated experience.”

Not only does it allow for a singular masculinity, Butler states that it also puts women into the same shared experience, in effect creating a singularity of femininity as well. By presenting men as the common enemy, it seeks unity under domination, and puts universality upon both masculinity as adversary and femininity as victim.


Masculinity in many cases has been made an Object whilst feminism has claimed femininity as Subject. Holding that men are important in the gender conversation and that masculinity, and its redefinition, is necessary for the success of an evolution in gender roles and relationships, men must become instruments for change and advocates towards Subjects.

Dissociating men from the feminist movement is detrimental to the movement, the women involved in it, and the men who are excluded. The fight for true gender equality must stretch beyond gender camps.

Regardless of gender, one should be the Subject of their own identity. Men must seek a more significant voice in a gender discourse that accepts a varied understanding of masculinity. Each of us should have the ability to define for ourselves how we choose to express our masculinity or femininity and be the Subjects of our own story.
1. Butler, J. (2008) Gender Trouble, London: Routledge.
2. Elson, D. (1991) ‘Male bias in the development process: an overview’, in Elson, D. (ed.) Male Bias in the Development Process, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
3. Freire, P. (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin Books.
4. Jackson, C. & Pearson, R. (1998) ‘Introduction: Interrogating Development: Feminism, gender and policy’, in Jackson, C. & Pearson, R. (ed.) Feminist Visions of Development, London: Routledge.
 There is a good comment and reply for this post - worth checking out. The post really generated few comments, and my guess is that people were turned off by the academese.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Television - Louis CK on Masculinity

I haven't seen this show, but after reading this column I am inclined to see if it is on Netflix or some other streaming service (we are a cable-free home). This is a good post on the issues of masculinity the show raises, and it comes from Mike Doyle's blog. Some comments below.

Louis CK on Masculinity

When I started watching comedian Louis C.K.’s show LouisI expected to spend those 25-minute episodes laughing as Louis poked crude fun at the world around him à la his stand-up shows. And while the show does have some legitimately funny moments, I was surprised to discover that Louis’ show actually presents a more realistic comedic depiction of his life (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) that makes viewers feel equal parts awkward and uncomfortable. It’s quite brilliant, actually.
* * * * * * *
The teenager saunters over to the couple’s table and menaces them with a feigned civility that is dripping with the potential for violence. After a long minute of this charade, the kid proceeds to threaten to kick Louis’ ass, showing him his cut up knuckles that he claims are the result of a recent beat down he bestowed upon some other lucky victim. Louis is forced to beg the kid not to beat him while his date watches in stunned silence. It’s humiliating for Louis.

And it gets worse.

After the kids leave, Louis tells his date he can’t go around fighting because he has to think of his daughters, but as his date asserts that she thinks he did the right thing, it’s clear she’s being insincere. Louis calls her on it, and she admits the whole situation was a turn off. She says she would’ve been upset if things had turned violent … but it was still a turn off. She says,”It’s like a primitive thing or something. I mean, you see this guy totally debase himself just to be safe. It’s a turn off.”

Louis is floored. He tells her, “I gotta criticize you a little bit for that. That’s why there’s wars and stuff — women like you that choose stupid strong people over the weak and the gentle.”

I almost wish his date had tried to argue with him, but instead she says, “I’m a grown woman, and my mind is telling me that you are a great guy … but my chemistry is telling me that you’re a loser. I’m surprised by my own reaction, and I have no defense.”

At this Louis tells her it’s time to get her a cab, angrily batting away her attempts to pay for their meal and making a point to open and hold the door for her as they leave the cafe. I found my breath caught in my throat as the scene came to a close, a touch of shame for my gender creeping its way into my psyche.
There is more to the article - Doyle offers some explication and good questions for consideration. 

This is a very realistic version of how this would play out if people were honest about how they feel, but few if any women would admit that it had been a turn-off and few if any men would have called her on it as did Louis.

Men live with a double standard - be strong, powerful, and show no fear, but do not be violent or overly aggressive. These qualities can all co-exist in the same man, but few men are capable of holding the paradox of power and non-violence in a way that honors both qualities.

What would you do? What would have been the "correct" way to handle the confrontation? Watch the video and decide for yourself - then come back here to share your thoughts.

Louis is bigger, maybe even stronger, but the kid has youth and the bravado that comes with a group of buddies to back him up. Do you confront the punk, stand up and call his bluff?

Do you take Louis's approach and just try to make it go away, seeing no good outcome from a confrontation, but then face the emasculation and humiliation and being made to beg by a high school punk?

I'm a different situation than Louis - I'm bigger and more menacing, despite not needing to hit anyone in more than 20 years. A kid like that would not pick me as a target. I could easily just stand up, dwarf the punk kid (who is not that big), and he'd back down. I can look intimidating.

I would not - personally - have taken the route Louis did, although I do not blame him at all for doing so - I have no children, and I am sure my mind would work differently if I did.

So what would I do?

I would stand up, and I'd ask the kid who hurt him so badly that he needs to pick on other people to feel like a man? I would tell him I can see the frightened child looking out through those angry eyes. I would reach out a hand and ask him how I can help? What does he need to feel safe? Whose love and approval does he crave and is not getting? I would tell him he is exactly okay right now, as he is, and beating me up will not make him feel any more safe or any more loved.

Maybe he would swing at me anyway, which I would deflect. Or maybe he would feel ashamed that someone exposed his secrets in front of his peers and be even more belligerent. And if it were a Steven Spielberg move he would start crying and give me a hug.

Whatever - my response in that situation would be to look past the bluster and bravado and to see the wounded child inside. In my experience, this is surest way to defuse a situation like the one on the show.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Morgan Spurlock, Male Grooming and ‘Mansome’

For decades, women have been targeted by the personal products industry with everything from hair removal devices and creams to "odor" removing feminine hygiene products to make up and hair coloring. If you watch the commercials and look at the magazine ads, nearly everything that is natural about being female needs to be prettied up and sanitized. And aside from small enclaves around the world (most noticeably Boulder, Seattle, San Francisco, Flagstaff, and a few East Coast towns with women-only colleges in the U.S.), a LOT of women have bought into this marketing of the shaved, painted, and sanitized woman.

Now men are being targeted - a trend that seemed to begin with the metrosexual phenomenon in the 1990s and 2000s. But as Morgan Spurlock documents (and ridicules) in his new film, Mansome, the trend is also moving into the mainstream of masculine culture. The focus for men seems to be some of the traditionally masculine qualities - strength and muscle (but it often requires shaving one's whole body to highlight the muscle, as in bodybuilding and guido culture), six pack abs (again, super lean and muscular, with a strict attention to diet that used to be something only women worried about), nice hair (well-groomed and god forbid you should go gray or bald), and impeccable clothing (more guys seem to be getting things tailored than in the past), and so on. Those last two are where things cross-over into the realm of the metrosexual, withthe use of personal care products becoming much more acceptable.

My take: I use hair product, shower gel, cologne, go to the gym as often as I can, have six-pack abs, watch what I eat, like to wear nice clothes, and am strong and mildly muscular - but I do not think of myself as metrosexual, nor do I do any of those things because I feel some pressure to conform to an image (and I have examined this, thoroughly, since I do have a vanity part). I do it because it's who I am. If men want to get prettied up, or be rough and bearish, or live somewhere in between, who the hell cares? Whatever makes them happy.

I watch these trends in the media because they say something, no matter how trivial, about the evolution or transformation of masculine ideals in the culture. I think we're seeing some men beginning to take better care of their health and their appearance, but a trip to Walmart or Home Depot will show us just how small a minority of men are doing so at this point.

From the New York Times, an interview with Spurlock about the film.

Morgan Spurlock, Male Grooming and ‘Mansome’

Morgan Spurlock shaving his handlebar mustache in "Mansome." 
Morgan Spurlock shaving his handlebar mustache in “Mansome.”

After tackling fanboy culture (“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope”) and product placement (“Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”), the documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has now turned his focus to men’s grooming habits with “Mansome.” The movie, which had its premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, opens in theaters Friday.

In the film, Mr. Spurlock interviews many men, from celebrities like Jason Bateman and Zach Galifianakis, to the award-winning beardsman Jack Passion, in a quest to understand how men’s grooming habits have evolved in the 21st century and how male identity has changed in the process. Mr. Spurlock’s own handlebar facial hair factors into the mix.

The beardsman Jack Passion in "Mansome." 
The beardsman Jack Passion in “Mansome.”

In a recent interview at his SoHo production offices, Mr. Spurlock spoke about the film. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Q. How did you want to structure the film?
A. We wanted to use characters as the best place to jump off from, to find people who had interesting and compelling stories. Jack Passion is an amazing character. Here’s a guy who is the European beard champion and the U.S. beard champion. He represents you and the rest of us Americans as the finest in “beard building,” as he calls it. Once I met Jack, I thought this is someone we should use as a model.

We wanted to find the people who represented the fringes of this idea. Only by understanding the extremes of certain people can you start to understand what the middle represents. I find myself more in the middle with the exception of this ridiculous mustache that I’ve been shaving around for eight years.

Q. You did a little bit of life imitating doc with your own mustache at the film premiere at Tribeca, correct?
Mr. Spurlock without his mustache at the Tribeca Film Festival. 
Mr. Spurlock without his mustache at the Tribeca Film Festival.
A. Yes, in the movie, I talk about how I came across Adam Garone, [a co-founder of] Movember, a charity fund-raiser for prostate cancer research where they get guys to grow mustaches. I called him and said I’ve had this mustache for a long time, so we came up with the idea of me shaving off my mustache during Movember to raise money for charity.

And then my little boy, who’s never seen me without a mustache, sees this weird man in his house and kind of loses it.

So for the premiere, I had my mustache, and while the movie showed, I shaved it off. After the movie, everybody’s looking at me like, “You kind of look like somebody I should know.” People couldn’t tell who I was. It was great.
Q. How did you determine which celebrities you were going to use?
A. Well, first you go to ZZ Top. You have these guys with these iconic rock ‘n’ roll man beards that they’ve had for years. It’s their identity. Then John Waters, with his pencil-thin mustache, was good. Zach Galifianakis is one of those guys who has always made fun of how he’s a bit of a schlub. Yet he’s incredibly successful with this dirty-mountaineer look to him. So I thought he’d be interesting.
Q. Beyond facial hair, what were you interested in exploring?
A. The film does look at this world of male body dysmorphia, where men are supposed to look and be a certain way. Shawn Daivari is an example of this. As a professional wrestler, there’s a certain way he’s supposed to look, which is completely ripped and cleanshaven without a hair on his body. He has to shave his whole body every single day before he goes to work. He has this mental image of what he has to live up to every single day. So there are some serious questions that are raised and some serious conversations that come up in the middle of a lot of funny parts.
Q. What ways have you found that male identity has most changed over the years?
A. Men now are made to feel as insecure as we’ve made women feel for decades. Magazines cater to this insecurity. You’re too fat, you’re too ugly. Get that girl! So you think: “I don’t have six-pack abs. What’s wrong with me?” I think that men have lost the confidence of self. We’ve lost this confidence of our own identity.
This brief article is from the LA Times, the land of bronze skin and botox - where youth is worshipped almost as much as celebrity.

Is the post-metrosexual manscape landscape the 'mansome era'?

Mansome Movie Stills

When it comes to answering the big questions about masculine identity and the male grooming ritual, Morgan Spurlock's latest movie, "Mansome" may barely scratch the surface (in spa terms that would make it more of an exfoliation than an extraction), but since the topic is being tackled on the silver screen at the same the makers of men's lotions, potions, salves, tonics and shaving implements are seeing increased sales, I decided to have a chat with Spurlock during his recent West Coast press junket. The result appears in Sunday's Image section.

Over the course of the interview, Spurlock shared some of the surprises and regrets from getting the documentary from idea to screen. One high point was finding Ricky Manchanda, a New Yorker who, at first glance, appears to be nothing more than a preening peacock of a narcissist.

"What I love about Ricky’s story is that he's a guy who has dealt with something we’ve all dealt with on some level -- peer pressure and being ridiculed by friends .... [A]nd Ricky’s saying: 'I’m not going to be that guy, I’m going to fit in by society’s standards.' That was a real 'aha' moment for me. "

Although there are a lot of voices (and I mean a lot; the press notes list 28 commentators by name -- from famous comedians to bloggers -- which doesn't include a slew of random men- and women-on-the-street interviews) there was some insight Spurlock wishes he'd been able to include.

"I would have loved more magazine editors and more people like that to chime in on their role in what’s happened," Spurlock said. "But it’s hard to get a lot of people to talk about how they've contributed to it. ... And we tried to get people from the modeling business to talk about it from the male modeling side  and we couldn’t get people to go on camera to talk about that."

Most discussions about male grooming and societal expectations eventually touch on the dreaded M-word -- metrosexual -- and when the topic finally came up Spurlock sounded ready to kick it to the curb once and for all.

"What’s the word for the post post-metrosexual era? I don’t know what it is," Spurlock said. "But I do know that we're beyond metrosexual. That was a term that came out to describe these men -- was almost a slag against them -- because they were engaging in something that had been quintessentially associated with gay culture [and] it was a negative connotation."

"We're at a place where [men taking care of their appearance] is being seen as normal, and it's becoming more accepted in society. So maybe we're living in 'mansome' era."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Masculinity Movies Reviews Shutter Island

Speaking of movies (see the previous post below), Masculinity Movies has posted a review of Shutter Island, an excellent psycho-horror homage to film noir with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, along with Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, and Ben Kingsley - and directed by Martin Scorsese. This is a classic style suspense drama with clues and confusion and twists, lots of rising tension, and all leading to one climactic scene. A feminist critic might see this as a typically male plot structure.

Here is a plot summary from IMDb:
It's 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy's shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.
This is a "user review," and the user in question is Paul Miller, a consultant psychiatrist & psychogeriatrician trained in Northern Ireland with a special interest in the effects of trauma on people - including miscarriages of justice.

Published: May 23, 2012

Shutter Island Synopsis

Drama set in 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding nearby. This movie has an amazing twist at the heart of it and you may wish to watch it BEFORE reading this. However, you will want to watch it again.

Genre: Thriller
Production year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Male actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

"Denial is Not a River in Egypt"

Past Traumas

Teddy Daniels - the US Marshall - is a troubled man who has returned from WWII having seen the horrors of the holocaust in the Nazi death camps. Pierre Janet (30 May 1859 – 24 February 1947) IMHO the true father of psychotherapy coined the words ‘dissociation’ and ‘subconscious’. He stated that traumatic memories were stored differently in the brain to normal memories and this is now been proven with modern scanning techniques. Essentially traumatic memories are relived rather than re-experienced. He was one of the first people to draw a connection between events in the subject's past life and his or her present day trauma. This is what we see Teddy experiencing in the movie. 

Go read the whole review.

Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" Hits the Big Screen at Cannes

Director Salles and cast members pose during a photocall at the 65th Cannes Film Festival

Finally, more than 30 years after Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to the book, and more than five decades since Jack Kerouac spent three benzedrine-fueled weeks furiously typing the manscript, On the Road - "a frenetic tale of liberation, masculinity and post-War America" - has been made into a film. 

The film debuts at Cannes, and it seems that so far, the reviews have been quite negative. That's too bad, it has the material to be a great film if were done honestly and faithfully to the book, with no pretense and no overly pretty faces (aside from the Dean Moriarty character, who I always pictured a young Marlon Brando or James Dean).

Kerouac's "On the Road" hits screen in Cannes debut

CANNES (Reuters) - The Bible of the Beat Generation, "On the Road" premiered at Cannes on Wednesday, taking more than five decades for the frenetic tale of liberation, masculinity and post-War America to play out its journey from novel to the big screen.

Furiously written on a typewriter over a three-week long creative binge in 1951, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is the seminal portrayal of "Beat" culture and its spiritual quest for expression.

The film version from Brazilian director Walter Salles ("Motorcycle Diaries") strives to capture the energy and drug-fuelled stream of consciousness of the original book.

Salles is helped by the casting of British actor Sam Riley as protagonist Sal Paradise, a stand-in for Kerouac himself, and U.S. actor Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, a symbol of American virility and poster child for living in the moment.

"The only people who interest me are the mad ones," Paradise writes, and Moriarty fits the bill. The charming, adventurous con man becomes Paradise's alter ego, and their closely bonded friendship plays out across a series of road trips.

"It's about the loss of innocence, it's about the search for that last frontier they'll never find," Salles told reporters in Cannes. "It's about also discovering that this is the end of the road and the end of the American dream."

Kristen Stewart of "Twilight" fame plays Moriarty's young wife Marylou, Kirsten Dunst plays second wife Camille and Viggo Mortensen takes a turn as Old Bull Lee, who is based on William Burroughs.

Salles said he and the team had "enormous respect for Kerouac" which helped drive the process from the time Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights to the book in 1979.

The idea of making On the Road into a movie languished "until Walter raised his hand and said I think I can make this movie," said Coppola's son, Roman, who is a co-producer. "It took 30 years but it was such a natural fit with Walter."

Most early reviews were negative.

"It feels long and tedious, as if we've dropped in on someone else's party without knowing or caring who these folks are, knocking back the whisky and barbiturates as regularly as they're knocking off each other," wrote London magazine Time Out's Dave Calhoun.

British newspaper The Telegraph called the film a "tedious loop of beatnik debauchery" while the Evening Standard said it "seems to lack the mad passion of Jack Kerouac's ferocious and extraordinary writing."


Drugs, sex and jazz are central to On the Road, as the lead characters' quest for freedom of body and mind take them to black jazz clubs, flop houses, migrant camps and rail depots.

"A road movie I think is what made me into a film maker and I'm very loyal to it," Salles told the press.

He said he found parallels between Kerouac's search for inspiration through jazz and bebop as he wrote his novel in an improvisational style and the job of the director.

"You always have to be on the lookout for what you find along the way, it's a way of creating fantastic images."

Salles' camera captures America's vastness - and the promise of something new around the corner - from the lights of New York to the hills of San Francisco and the long expanse of flat road and endless sky in between.

But as the sun fades on the brief and bright explosion of the characters' lives, age and responsibility intrude.

"This high we're on is a mirage," character Carlo Marx tells Paradise and Moriarty.

For a look at Cannes' 2012 lineup, click here:

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato)