April 25, 2012

Manning Up: Women's Rise - Men's Demise?

The following book review was contributed by Guest Blogger, Joshua Slattengren. If you would like to write for the Man-Making Blog, please contact me.

In her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has turned Men into Boys, author Kay Hymowitz looks at the social trends which have created what she terms the “child-man.” She defines a child-man as a male in his twenties or early thirties who lacks the motivation for taking on the various responsibilities often used as metrics for manhood - such as holding down a “real job,” marriage, and starting a family. Instead, the stereotypical child-man is a responsibility-shirking, slovenly-dressed, video-gaming, South Park-watching slouch.

According to Hymowitz, child-men find themselves lost in a world where women make more money, are more educated, and are less likely to want to settle down (with them) and build a family. Publisher’s Weekly (which panned the book) quotes the author, describing pre-adult men as, . . . living in a world where social demands no longer equate manhood with maturity, (thus) frat dudes, nerds, geeks, and emo-boys can remain in suspended post-adolescence, while women, whose biological clocks are ticking, are forced to choose between single parenthood and casting their lot with a child-man. Hymowitz explores the many cultural forces she believes have brought about this unanticipated and disconcerting effect in males.

Manning Up is less a prescription on how to reverse the child-man trend (though some ideas are presented), than a concise (fewer than 200 pages) historical and cultural analysis of the forces in society that have raised and tolerated the child-man. In a Forbes online interview with Hymowitz, the author describes some of the confusion for men resulting from the feminist movement. She said, . . . the culture at large is uncertain about what it wants from its men. We give a lot of mixed messages. We say, on the one hand, that fathers are so important. At the same time, we say that fathers are optional. Many women seem to want men that are confident and have a strong sense of themselves. At the same time, they are put off by too much masculine, authoritativeness. I think a lot of men react to these mixed signals by retreating into themselves, becoming passive and reluctant, and often waiting for women to make the first move.

Though she points to a number of factors driving men toward child-manhood, Hymowitz zeros in on the rise of the knowledge economy as a chief determinant. In the knowledge economy, it’s not male-favoring brute strength that is most highly prized, but emotional intelligence. She feels this emotional intelligence not only levels the job-market playing field for both genders, but may actually give women the upper hand.

Hymowitz suggests another important change she has witnessed over the last few decades is the infatuation with girl-power. The author doesn’t say empowering girls and young women is a bad thing – but this trend has changed the expectations and aspirations of women and, in response, altered the landscape for males in regards to education, marriage (marrying much later in life), and career opportunities. Hymowitz believes, in many ways, the pro-girl-power movement has come at the expense of boys and younger men. In just one example of many, she cites the major investments made in public schools to bring girls’ scores in math and science to par (or even better) with boys’ scores. She points out similar investments have not been made to raise boys’ reading scores to levels comparable to girls’.

The author also identifies another shift in the last few decades where popular culture increasingly portrays women as in-charge, competent, and sophisticated, while so many movies and TV shows portray men as the opposite: incompetent, unreliable, immature, and often foolish -- and only good for a laugh (think Adam Sandler, in Big Daddy, or Seth Rogen in Knocked Up).

What hit me as the most tragic result of changing social conditions Hymowitz describes is the absence of a positive and achievable life script in the lives of too many young men. In the past, Hymowitz writes,
The life script for most men was pretty simple: you’re born; you grow up; you learn to do the hunting, fishing, building, farming, and the like expected of you; you get married, you have children, you get old (if you’re lucky); and you die. There were exceptions [… but] despite the variations, we can make several generalizations. First, men were required to provide, or to help provide, for their wives and children, and in many cases for other family members. Second, in the face of danger, they had to protect these others as well. This is why so many pre-modern cultures had initiation rituals testing boys’ courage, perseverance, and competence.
In the past, societies needed proven men – especially at times of war and high risk. In the modern knowledge economy, men are simply not needed in the same way. It’s a mistake, though, to assume that men are, therefore, dispensable. It frustrates me that we have allowed society to diminish the role of the strong and responsible man – or have so dumbed down manhood so as to equate it with sex, beer, computer games, sports and foolish pursuits.

It can and should be argued, as this blog often does, that the risks we are and will be facing in our world will require tested, proven, and responsible men. This in no way precludes a role of strong women and women of character. But a clear template for men does seem to be missing.

Manning Up shows us how the challenge of coming of age for a young male in a culture without a desirable prescription for a positive and mature manhood, combined with a lack of guidance from older men, has resulted in something like the child-man phenomenon the author describes. In spite of what you might consider to be its flaws, the book does provide the reader with a greater awareness of social trends affecting not only our young men, but also women and society as a whole. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in what Earl, in this blog, terms man-making.

(The author of this review is Joshua Slattengren. He is 32, is newly married, and resides in Indiana. He has been a teacher, was involved in coaching, and has served overseas in the Peace Corps. Currently, Joshua is a manager at a college bookstore.)

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April 16, 2012

Mentoring for Boys Driving Fast

In the Man-Making book, I profile a lot of men who turn their personal interests into opportunities for connecting with young guys. This provides a chance for shared interests, training in important life skills, hang time with a man or men, and for the development of a male ally. In a world experiencing an epidemic of, what I term, under-male-nourished-boys, this approach to guiding boys toward a responsible manhood is full of wins for all the males involved. Sometimes it even saves lives.

Jay Gubrud is a friend of mine, and a man who loves driving BMW automobiles. He is a member of the BMW Car Club of Minnesota, a group that has a focus on safe and skillful driving. Through the club, Jay learned the National Highway Traffic Administration statistics say motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. In addition, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports crash risk for drivers sixteen and seventeen years old is three times as great as it is for a nineteen and twenty-year-olds. In every age category, the car crash and death statistics are worse for boys than girls. Those numbers got Jay’s attention and he decided to do something.
In every age category,
the car crash and death statistics
are worse for boys than girls.
Like most teens, Jay had developed an early love of driving fast. He said he wished he’d had a high-performance driving program available to him in adolescence, when his love of driving was blooming. In Jay’s words, "My dad had no interest in driving or performance driving so I had to learn from the school of hard knocks. If there would have been someone steering me toward safe driving at that point in my life, I’d have had a lot fewer problems." Just like Jay, most teens find out the limitations of their driving skills on public roads, surrounded by other vehicles, in dangerous real-world conditions, and often with the police involved. He saw a big need to help teenagers become more skillful drivers.

As a direct result of his passion, Jay partnered with the Minnesota Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America to create the Safe Teen Driving Program. Initially, the program put fourteen Minneapolis and St. Paul area teens in the capable hands of instructors from the BMW Club. These people led the students through classroom and on-road training. Instead of taking risks on the street, the kids were able to develop their skills and discover the limits of their vehicles on a safe and custom-made track. Since that first event, hundreds of Minnesota teens have successfully completed this program. While all teens, regardless of gender, need to learn how to become the best possible drivers, young male drivers, with their tendencies for testing their limits and risk-taking in general, stand to gain the most from this kind of training.

Because of his passion for driving, Jay not only helped to create a solid mentoring program for kids, in the process, he very likely prevented serious injury or death for a teenage boy or girl. His story gets even better, however. The BMW Car Club of America used much of the Safe Teen Driving Program in the development of a national program now called Street Survival.

To learn what causes teenage drivers to be such risky drivers, check out this list of primary risk factors. Also, consider how an interest, hobby, or passion of yours might touch the lives of a few kids in your community. You just never know where it might take you.

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April 8, 2012

Men, Boys, and the Wilderness

Four years ago, myself and a group of men started the Desert Men's Council in Tucson, AZ. It's been a fun and challenging adventure that has connected me to really good men, a pack of adolescent males, and occasionally, offered an outing in the desert wilderness or mountains near Tucson. I especially like going camping in the outback with a tribe of males.

I didn't have a father or other men in my life who took me camping. There was one outing when I was a Cub Scout that is still alive in my memory. We only went as far as a town park on the edge of the city where you could still hear traffic. But as a first timer, playing with other guys in the woods, grilling a hot dog outside, sitting around a fire under the stars, and sleeping in a smelly old army tent, all bordered on magical. I can still smell that old tent canvas. I was allowed to sharpen a stick with a real buck knife, and I learned how to start a campfire, put up a tent, and laugh when someone farted at the fire. All those memories come rushing back and the potency of that experience comes back to me every time I go into the wilderness with men and young males.

This last weekend, the men and young guys of the Desert Men's Council held their annual Council Rocks Campout (photos at this link). There were the normal pre-departure challenges to arrange transportation for our food, water, all the campers and their gear. It was sweet to watch the mom's hanging around and seeming to not want to let go of their sons. Finally, after counting off around the circle, a pack of twenty-four males, ages ten to sixty-eight, and a few dogs, loaded into cars and drove over pavement, dirt, and then finally a 4-wheel drive road to get to our campsite in the Dragoon Mountains near Tombstone, AZ.

It was a perfect young guy location. Not a house in sight, in the foothills of the mountains, huge boulders to climb on, and wall paintings and petroglyphs that pre-date the Apache Indians who used the place as a meeting ground.

On arrival we set up a first class camp by dividing into teams. Fire team, kitchen team, and even a team for digging the latrine! With camp prepared, we gathered in a circle to make sure everyone was accounted for (again counting off). We discussed how we were going to approach the challenging afternoon hike, covering the critical importance of hydration in the desert, what to do if we encountered a mountain lion (unlikely), snakes (very possible), and how to travel as a band of brothers, making sure everyone was OK, and that we'd arrive back together safely.

Before heading out we made sure water bottles were filled and then, just before departure, we all gathered around the latrine. It was a first class setup, with a long trench, privacy tarp, pile of dirt and shovel, a great view, and even a bag for used TP to honor our "no trace" intentions. The idea of using the latrine at all was a major shock for the city kids with us. Until that moment, the notion really hadn't crossed their minds. There was some basic training, lots of questions, and wary glances as they considered the possibility of this new experience. I'm sure that for more than one of them, that was the moment they decided they could "hold it" for two days.

I always like seeing a line of men and boys waling on a trail on the way to face a challenge. It's an ancient scene wired into the male DNA and somehow just feels right. As you can see in the photos, it was a challenging hike of about 3 hours in temps that approached 90 degrees. There was rough rock, mini-canyons to negotiate, and plenty of prickly desert plants to get the attention of those who went astray. The tired tribe returned to camp with a rock and cactus bites, great memories, some awesome shots for their Facebook pages, and serious bragging rights.

The fire team started the dinner fire, and the kitchen team assembled the meal. Finally, good food was shared, and the campfire conversations started. Jokes were made, stories from the hike were told, people were honored, and serious topics about male lives were also unfolded. In the process, new friends were made and our male community grew tighter. Tired bodies hit the sleeping bags that night. Most slept out under the stars with such deep quiet you could, at times, hear your heartbeat in your ears.

Dawn, 9 AM for most of the young guys, began an easy move into the day. A breakfast fire and the smell of food being prepared got even the sleepiest dudes out of their bags. Breakfast, and then a morning circle around the fire, gave each male time to check in with what they were feeling, what they liked the best, and what lesson they learned on the experience they would take back to their lives at home. It was a gentle time, where everyone had a chance to be seen, heard, and honored.

I know this is a long story. But if you got this far, it's because there is something in the story that speaks to you. Speaks to a part of you that knows this story, or maybe doesn't and possibly hungers for this experience still. You can believe the men who put on the event are just like you. We all had vastly different skill sets, none of us could have done it on our own, but together, we figured out the details and filled in the blanks to make it all happen. You could too.

If you and some of you male friends were to gather and begin to remember the camping you used to do, or wanted to do, remember leaving the women and children to head out in a pack, the time spent around the fires, the beauty of the night skies, and the "guy conversations" that always occur, you might just stir up enough interest to bring those gifts to some young males in your world. It really doesn't have to be far, elegant (think hot dogs), or in any way perfect. But you can be sure that if you have some young guys along, it just might be life-changing memorable for them. And it will be very good for you're masculine spirit too.

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