The Masculine Mystique


When I was younger I always figured I was a “different” type of male. I was calm, slow to judge, played trumpet in the middle school band, and didn’t enjoy “manly things” like my friends did. I was also super awkward with girls (as every 12 year old is) and became some sort of “hopeless romantic.”

Eventually as I got older my confidence and hubris grew and I ditched band and played soccer and tennis in high school. Still not the “manliest” sports but I was gaining leadership positions in them and other areas. College happened and I started playing dodge ball and now had so much confidence that I began to act selfishly in relationships. I thought I was the boss of everything. I thought I was the best looking, the most athletic, the coolest, the person who should be in charge, all because I’m the most confident…only the last one was actually true.

I eventually hit bottom.

The girl who was the main part of my life throughout most of college left me for not being sensitive enough, a friend died in Afghanistan, my best friend cut off communication with me (though this was mostly in part because of a dominate and manipulative girlfriend) and to top it all off the family dog died. This was all in the span of 8 months. I knew a readjustment in how I ran my life was in order to deal with these losses because I was losing it.

I transitioned from a shy awkward nerd to an arrogant asshole in 8 years. 2 years later I’ve learned and changed my arrogance level to what my boss has called “an aura of calm confidence,” which I’m content with but looking at these different stages of my life it begs the question: Which was the most “masculine” part? What does it mean to be a man?

I conducted an interesting bible study with teenage males over the summer at the camp a worked at. It was all guys and I deemed it a “guyble study.” I asked them how they would describe a male: They gave me positive attributes such as “strong, providing, athletic, funny, charming and other positive characteristics” Then I asked how society would describe guys. The boys then gave me answers such as “dumb, violent, crazy, lazy, only wanting sex, and other negative ones.

This was a group of only males, who thought of their gender as great but thought that society viewed them negatively. Why is that? How did guys get such a bad rap?  Men are destroyers sure, but we’re also creators. The same male hands that wage war, also create cities. The same male hands that can shoot a child also can save it in an emergency room. It seems we epitomize much of the best and worst of society. (Not saying women aren’t in great positions but this is a post about men.) Why does society only see the negatives? I agree with the guys’ adjectives on men and what they believe society thinks. So again. Is the epitomized male a lazy sex crazed hairy fat dude who is violent? I hope not. 

I was told recently that this from a woman at my church that her husband and father were “men’s men” because they were vehemently conservative, tough, and (though she didn’t say it explicitly) insensitive. I only saw the husband once but he is not involved with the church, he was an overweight man with a camo hat and didn’t say a word to me when we met…Is that what all young men should aspire to be? If we want to represent our gender should we just be insensitive and tough on those we love because we’re men and that’s what we just do?

Should we do the opposite and start taking on feminizing attributes to the point where the only difference between men and women is anatomy? 

I say no to both. I think that there are only a few characteristics that COULD describe men and the rest are not important. 

#1. Men should provide. They don’t have to be the bread winner and I’m not saying women shouldn’t work but it’s clear men were made to work. Being lazy and not contributing to your loved ones is unmanly.

#2. Men should have passion. I don’t care if it’s WWII military history, fine wine, trains or whatever. There should be something that drives a man to get up every morning and want to kick ass at something. Even if his job sucks there should be something that gets him through the tough day or week. 

#3. Men should have confidence. I’m not talking about confidence in general, though that definitely doesn’t hurt. But having confidence in some skill or niche. Knowledge in some area leads to this confidence. Maybe cars aren’t your thing, that’s fine but if you have enough knowledge to talk about biology then have confidence there.

#4.. Men should be indifferent to petty issues. Indifference is not apathy. If a speaker on education reform is talking and you don’t know a thing about the education system… DO NOT OFFER AN OPINION. I’m not saying don’t care about it because it is an important issue but don’t get wrapped up in loving or hating something you didn’t know existed 10 minutes ago. If you want to get wrapped up into it then learn more and then refer to #3.

#5. Men should hold several core values. These can be the previous 4 suggestions or maybe some other things. It’s up to you. Stand for SOMETHING. If you don’t stand for anything then people can stand on you. 

However, the most important thing is don’t let anyone define what a man is for you. The things I listed are my own hair ball SUGGESTIONS. They are not by any means my “rules” or (god forbid) “truths” of manliness. These are things that could possibly make a good woman too. 

Clearly we are at some crisis of what being a man really means, this is just my penny and calling it two cents. 

Wussification of America (Part II)


“HISTORY IS THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A MADMAN” –ALEXANDER HERZEN

Part I of this I described what this phenomena is and what is going on. Part II focuses on the after effect of 2 decades or so of this process.

2 years ago I remember being at the beach with my then girl friend and other friends. I remember walking in the sand 10 or 20 blocks and sweating profusely. I couldn’t understand why I was sweating so much. Each step seemed like I was walking up hill and burned. We eventually reached our destination and I was out of breath and very confused. But more so I didn’t want to face the fact that I had gained a considerable amount of weight during college and my diet had been nothing but crap food. I was 230 lbs. Now it wasn’t very obvious to see this. My body hid it well so I didn’t look obese but I was clearly unhealthy. A summer of running dropped me down to 190 but my weight has fluctuated between 200 and 220 since then. But this is a good story compared to millions of other people in America and the west. We’re a fattening people.

This isn’t a blog about obesity, I’m no nutritionist and still have a lot of work to do on myself. But this is looking at the bigger problem. We are becoming soft as people. The days of adventuring out as a child are over “it’s not safe anymore” people think. Risk, confrontation, and hard ships of any kind are diminished as much as possible in the 21st century. This includes doing things that makes oneself look better, which is crazy and counter productive in a society where we honor and promote the best looking around us.

It’s not just weight though. Anything hard is seen as something not worth having because people try to work smart instead of working hard. I’m not saying that working smart is bad. It’s great but sometimes there’s no way around hard work, which very few people want to put in these days. This is contrast to what generations before us have learned: That EVERYTHING hard is worth having. Creating something out of parts, cooking from scratch, having a good looking and healthy body from sacrifice and hard work (as opposed to miracle pills) isn’t a story that would sell. We make more and more products that make our lives less stressful. We pay top dollar for convenience. Even though it’s more work you get better results with examples such as:

Working out and eating right is better for you than some stomach stapling procedure
Making and growing your own food is better for you than buying from a store.
Learning lessons the hard way is better than taking someone’s advice

And maybe that’s the heart of the matter. Have we reached a point in time where our previous generation believes they have learned all there is to learn and saturates us with advice so that we don’t have to relive their mistakes? Perhaps. But if that is true that doesn’t make what is happening okay. Our parents think they want what is best for us but they really want was is good for us. They naturally want to protect us from all the bad in the world like and think that’s possible and that’s okay. However, things in life are inevitable such as loss, heartbreak, getting injured…and of course death and taxes. There’s nothing wrong with trying to minimizing these things, after all if you break a bone every month.. or hell every year…something wrong is going on. But trying to pretend like we can give advice and take away certain experiences is a childish way of thinking that these will eliminate these hardships.

Call me conservative but I don’t think it’s even a good idea to eliminate all losses and heartbreak. Obviously these things are not fun but we can learn from them. A small heartbreak as a teenager can lead to handling a bigger heartbreak as an adult better. It’s a little like a vaccine. Get a little of the disease that you can fight off so you won’t get it later. I’ve had more than my fair share of competitive losses so I still feel the sting of a loss but it doesn’t destroy me.

I always start my posts with the quote of Alexander Herzen, that “History is the autobiography as a mad man” (I explain why on the home page under “who is the mad man”) But I think it can be arguably said that modern American is the autobiography of a mad man. As I’m typing this I’m reading about a pee wee football lean that loss 91-0 and the parents are now suing for “bullying” and harassment. Clearly these parents and kids never loss much and are acting absurd. Suing because you didn’t like the result of your child’s sporting event is hardly rational and sane. Childhood is the best time for small hardships so that the big hardships of adulthood can be handled with more ease but Americans seem intent on keeping us “safe” rather than prepared.

This is the same situation as the nuts who believe in “abstinence only” sex ed instead of preparing for the inevitable: the teens will eventually have sex. Whether or not this should be condoned is another matter but pretending like telling them no and all of them will listen is a silly notion. The best we can do is prepare, not dig our heads in the sand and believe that with the right advice and precautions our children can live a life devoid of hardship.

As a child I was told to fasten my seat belt. If I forget my body would get jostled when the breaks were applied and I would get hurt. I learned to fasten my seat belt every time after that. It was a small lesson but learned the hard way. I had many scrapes, cuts, and heartbreaks and I consider myself an (arguably) well adjusted person.

Working hard to achieve success is something that seems to not be learned by many. Rock stars, Professional athletics, hilarious stand up comics, Hollywood actors, best selling authors, and businesses CEOs didn’t walk out of the womb on top. It took years, decades in most cases of late nights and hard work to achieve their level of success. It also took years of critique, sucking, and bad reviews that they had to get through. But the most important thing it took was risk. Where are our business entrepreneurs of tomorrow if we won’t even let our children risk a scrape on the knee from a kick ball game? Where are our sport stars of tomorrow if we won’t let our children risk losing too poorly in a pee wee foot ball game?

I see it now. Almost all of my friends have moved back home in some form instead of risking getting out there in the world. Some of that is the economy, sure but some of them have jobs or careers and just want to live with their parents still because it’s too risky out there. …maybe it just makes more financial sense for them for the time being and I’m being insensitive. Boo hoo right?

Anything that you need to work hard to achieve is worth having. It’s a lesson we as a people have seem to forgotten. Making your own mistakes will help you be a better person and while it may be hard at the time you get two things out of it:

You learn something and it’s always a good story to tell.

The “Wussification” of America: Part I


“HISTORY IS THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A MADMAN” –ALEXANDER HERZEN

 

Wussification or “pussification” as some call it, is a relatively new term used to describe the process of making someone or something weaker, damaged, soft…or a just a wussy. It’s something that can be seen all around in this country and the reasons are as strange as the situations themselves

Knowing that I will sound like an old man when I say “back when I was a kid” aside so be it… When I was younger I would climb 100 ft tall trees and feel the limbs sway in the breeze as I felt a moderate amount of adrenaline. We played “wall ball” which essentially is just throwing rubber balls at my friends against a wall and if they caught your ball, it was your turn on the wall. Tag and competition was encouraged. I thankfully never broke a bone but had more scrapes, bumps, and bruises than I care to remember but each one came with a story.

However, you could see this trend happening when my entire soccer team would get 1st place trophies when we won the local rec league… and trophies for merely existing on the team when we came in last. When I played youth baseball the managers said “we don’t keep score, this is just for fun” …as we would obliterate teams 34-3 (as my team did one year). You what’s more fun? Winning. You know what’s not fun? Being talked down to when you can clearly keep score in your head and the adults won’t let you say it out loud.

…losing isn’t fun as well but it teaches you valuable lessons, it gives you motivation to try harder and practice more, or gives you the push to pursue other passions. And that’s what is happening. We’re creating a bunch of losers who have been told they are winners their whole life. Eliminate risk by eliminating reward.

No more climbing big trees, the kids might get hurt

No more dodgeball or wall ball the kids might get hurt

Lets give trophies to everyone because everyone is so “special” and that’s how professional, college, and high school sports are treated….

One school in Long Island is eliminating balls of all kinds all together and games of tag will be strictly monitored by recess watchers…and this is only the latest trend among kids. Give them a computer, give them an x box, give them an ipad and they will stay inside where it is safe. Let them never face failure.. or success. I watch over two adolescent boys (age 11 and 14) Granted the 14 year old has autism, but they are fairly self sufficient. I literally do nothing there. I drive them home from school some days, and one of the boys has piano lessons but what their mom is really paying for is peace of mind that they are safe. They are very safe, in a good neighborhood, and get on their ipads or x boxes when I am there leaving me to channel surf or be their chauffeur. They don’t play outside they are content to sit for hours on end in a virtual world. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for video games but every day, all day?

Also there seems to be a war against young boys and “play.” It is essential to development for young boys to use their imagination to do things like “fight the bad guys” “rescue the princess” even “playing house” can help them make situations and problems and solve them. It’s healthy and normal. However, schools are stunting everything that seems violent. Many guys I know and me pretended to kill “bad guys” or dragons as young boys. We’ve gone on 0 shooting sprees and we generally try to be a peaceful people. The only time that is bad is if you’re doing these imaginary things when you’re 16. A little boy in Maryland was expelled for chewing off parts of a pop tart into a gun and “shooting” the other kids. A boy in Virginia was suspended for playing with a clearly marked fake “zombie killer” gun in his own yard when getting picked up for school. Schools with 0 tolerance policies on violence or guns are hurting young boys. It’s natural for boys to act out aggression in imaginary or fictitious ways. There is absolutely no correlation of a boy making his fingers like a gun and going “pichu pichu” playfully to his elementary school classmate and columbine. Yet doing that action has also led to school suspensions. By punishing boys for playing we are stunting their imagination and their development. While punishing violence is good, punishing fictitious and imaginary violence is going over the top. Better going “pichu” then having them act it out in real life.

Competition (for better or worse) is the very lifeblood of our society. The best products win in the market, the best players are selected for the next level of sports, the smartest kids get into the best schools, the best looking become our models…etc finding out what you’re actually good act is better the sooner you actually figure that out. Being told that you’re great at football for 5 years then getting cut from your high school team is going to be a slap in the face.  Every kid getting a trophy because they’re special… Isn’t making anyone special. It means they’re all the same!

However, I don’t want this to sound like a rant. I don’t like ranters and I don’t like ranting. I am the eternal optimist. Ending this system of entitlement and risk minimization will have a detrimental effect on these children when they get older (I will elaborate on this in part II) and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Giving all kids a trophy or minimizing their risk because their kid is special is the right message in the wrong way. No one is good at everything but everyone is good at something. Everyone is special…just not at everything they try. And they especially aren’t good at it when they try something for the first time. If you’re told that you are good at everything you do when that is not the case you will have a hard time figuring out what is legitimate praise and what is fluff.

If someone is not good at something there are ways of making them feel okay about it that doesn’t involve praising them for a substandard job. Criticism can and should be constructive. It’s effect should be making one try harder to do better next time and if you cry about it… SO WHAT?! The sooner one learns crying is a stress reliever and nothing more that’s fine. Crying should not lead to capitulation. Having your feelings hurt isn’t the worse thing in the world. If the criticism is constructive then it shouldn’t even hurt people’s feelings. If you find out that baseball isn’t your thing and you enjoy art then that’s a great thing! Discovering your talents won’t happen unless you go out there and find out what you’re good at.

It’s clear that eliminating risk has some positives.

Children will get less minor and moderate injuries and children will have more self esteem. Both are good but at what cost? Eliminating the reward that comes with eliminating risk. Is learning lessons, discovering true passions, trying to better themselves for passions already found worth it? The world isn’t made for a culture that is raising our kids who think that they are masters of everything.

Like I said, this started when I was growing up in the 90’s and now those kids are growing up and entering/exiting college and into the workforce. Part II examines the effect of this when you are 23 and have been conditioned this way.

Sheilded Hate


Image

“History is the autobiography of a madman” – Alexander Herzen

I remember where I was when I realized racism was still prevalent. It was in 2007 when I  was a 17 year old in my house in the summer after my Jr year. I was watching a CNN special about “sun down towns” where it wasn’t safe to be a minority out on the town after the sun was down. I was shocked.

Now this may sound like I was an incredibly naive person. I grew up in a liberal house in very diverse schools and just assumed that racism was something you learned about in history classes because diversity was everywhere in my life. Of course with the election of Obama the next year I heard all sorts of racist soundbites from folks coming out of the wood work.

There have been two events of promoted racism at my home. My parents Obama sign was stolen in 2008 along with our American flag and replaced with a plush “black panther” doll. Most recently the attached flier was dropped on my parents up scale house in Frederick. Yes, the Klan is alive and apparently advertising. I posted the picture on my Facebook and received expected comments. Comments of disgust, surprise, and my favorites the sarcasm. “Does the Klan have a good health care plan?” commenting about how the paper is in a ziplock bag because they can’t afford lamination, “I love that there is a hotline” And they do have a hotline… and a website.  Now as much as I would love to troll the Klan “hotline” I feel like it’s not worth it. The website is another story. I would have no idea how one would “sell” the Klan.

On the website the sell it as not an “anti-black” group but a “pro-white” group, which they’ve been doing since the 80’s. Even more so they tell statistics about how “black hate” has risen in the past 2 years (to appear legitimate) and how there’s so many more non-white people in America (scare tactic?)

The most puzzling part was the huge part of the site dedicated to Christian doctrine and Christian art that is apparently a big part of Klan doctrine. Even on their application there’s a section marked whether or not you believe in Jesus. I guess this would be the heart of the matter. There is a sect of Christianity that while also believing in God’s grace, love, peace, and salvation that… it’s also okay to hate others. You see this all the time with the religious rights obsession with gays and abortions. The mantra of “being gay is wrong because I misinterpreted the bible and now I must be against them to have a spouse” this while verses condemning shell fish eating, mixing fabrics, and tattoos,  also mentioned but I’m sure you can find some of these people wearing jeans with cotton, tatted up, in a red lobster. But it’s not because they hate gay people right? I’m sure they would be perfectly fine with if it made no mention of any homosexual activities in the bible… but probably not.

We all have prejudices that are easier explained away by hiding behind something bigger than ourselves. Religion, patriotism, security. Things that we use to justify hate and bigotry. It is unfortunate that a religion which is about grace, love, and salvation can be used to do the exact opposite of that. But this is nothing new. The bible was often used in the South to defend the institution of slavery. A pastor once told me that “if you look hard enough you can find a bible verse to defend or support anything you’d like.” Unfortunately he’s right. The old testament has a lot of fire and brimstone passages and the new is a lot about love and compassion. But I digress.

I’m sure most people are familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church  (The WBC) and it’s “God hates fags mantra” this is a “Christian Sect” and something that the right and left can agree is awful. It’s far removed from even right wing fundamentalists and hard to imagine how they can still claim they are followers of “The Prince of Peace.” It’s not just with Christianity though. Americans hate confrontation we will go through great lengths to say that our prejudices are really in defense of a good cause, like the ones I mentioned before. Thoughts like “It’s okay to hate Muslims because if I do that’s making America safer and I’m a good American.” “It’s okay to hate blacks because white’s are real or good Americans.” And “It’s okay to hate gays because that makes me a good Christian.” The Klan is no different, they hide behind whatever institutions they can just to hate more people. I’m not supposing that we come out behind our shields and admit our hate is really just because of deep seeded prejudices. People would never do that anyways. No one would ever want to admit they’re a hateful person just because they can be.

If the shields were to come down though then there would be no defense for hate then how long could it last?

The downside of being an extrovert


“history is the autobiography of a madman” – Alexander Herzen

Ever since I can remember I’ve loved people. As a 3 and 4 year old I would run around at my parents parties introducing people I just met to other guests in the house. I would say hi and (try) to hug random strangers when I would go on a walk in the park. I never missed a single day of elementary school because I loved being around all my classmates and teachers. You could have pinned me as an extrovert a long time ago.

I think it worked out pretty well for me so far. I’ve joined many organizations and have met many different types of people, liking almost all of them. But is there a downside? I’m beginning to see that. It may not be what you think though. It’s not that I can’t stand being alone because I can. I currently live in a house by myself on a mountain and while there are 3 of my friends next door I enjoy my privacy, solidarity, and reflection as much as anyone else. But sometimes I just want to quit society.

Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram and even blogs like this have given everyone a platform. We are bombarded by so many opinions that it’s hard for us to form an opinion of our own. So many things are “shared” or “reblogged” that an original idea is a rarity in today’s society. I’ve been guilty of that myself. Re posting a meme that has a 1/2 decent quote about anything and then having a dimwitted debate or giving a small snark is commonplace. Sites like “failbook” “fml” “textsfromlastnight” and dozens of other sites show the ignorance of others along with things you may see on your social network from people you only keep around to see the craziness of the things they post (and we all know we have some of those people)

Is what I’m writing now an original thought or did I skim through it on my newsfeed and am unconsciously regurgitating it? You can’t be too sure these days. This bombardment of verbal diarrhea has different effects on people from enraged, to apathetic, to hilarity. I try to choose hilarity because if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. In the end it’s a small power trip knowing I didn’t make a complete fool of myself and presented myself as an ignoramus in front of all my facebook friends. (Aside from the time I said I went for a memorial day hike on labor day, WHOOPS)

But what happens when these aren’t some clueless people on a “fail” site or it’s not a friend who isn’t going anywhere, and you can easily dismiss? What happens when these are important people. The media, congressmen, our president. Leaders we have given the honor to represent us, our interests, and give us the truth. The situation quickly turns from funny to sad. As many of you know today was Day 1 of not funding our government. Now this isn’t the first time it happened. But this shouldn’t be a normal thing. But it’s almost as if I could predict what the media would say and what the parties I would say:

MSNBC and liberals go and blame conservatives

Fox News and conservatives go blame liberals

It’s like the only thing they can agree on is that it is definitely the other sides fault. Now I’m not going to get into who’s fault I think it is and who’s the bad guy here because that’s not what this post is about. This is how all this toxicity is killing the extrovert in me. Money in politics, political commentary paraded as “news” and a seemingly endless kindergarten battle between the most important people in the government. Again, as and extrovert I’m very interested in the theater of politics and am up to date on the latest political battles but when theater is the ONLY type of politics going on one has to ask…is anyone doing any governing?

I want to believe in the democratic process but it’s getting harder when I can more or less predict ominous and juvenile things that will happen within the government and media in the next year. There will be more and more money in politics and the media. They will stick more and more rigidly with a party line and demands of the minority party will become less and less reasonable. It’s enough to make someone like me want to abandon wanting to be part of society all together. I want a government that works, I want the media to tell me the news, and I want politicians to think and not just be a Democrat or Republican. Call me naive, but I don’t think that’s asking too much.

As our government continually fails our ideals (and as of today is literally not working) more and more people are going into 1 of 2 camps. They will be rigidly partisan and be an unyielding liberal or conservative…or just stop caring and become too jaded to participate. Joining the 1st would seem too sheep like, joining the 2nd would be hard for one who wants to care about others and wants others to care as well. But if this the future for politics and our government it seems to be more than I can take.