Sunday, October 9, 2011

baby-man meme, Manland at IKEA, chasm between different classes of masculinity

By Katrina Onstad, Globe and Mail, Occtober 8, 2011
Last month, in a ham-fisted effort to minimize spousal unit tension, an IKEA in Sydney, Australia temporarily installed Manland. Much like Smaland, IKEA’s bubble room and crafts centre for children, Manland is filled with stimulating diversions (foosball, hot dogs) for men unable to shop without a meltdown. “Some men may pretend to enjoy the shopping experience,” a reporter enthused in a news clip on Australian TV. “We all know they’d prefer to be playing an Xbox or watching the footy than pushing a trolley!” Word! High five!

The set of assumptions behind Manland doesn’t flatter either sex. Once again, here comes the baby-man meme, wherein men are unable and unwilling to participate in the rote side of domestic life. These are the same guys who steal breakfast cereal from their kids in ads or are played by Jim Belushi on sitcoms.

Upholding the clichés of masculinity – real men hate shopping and love Space Invaders – doesn’t make men manlier; it makes them seem a little pathetic. To be a man – or any kind of adult – is to participate fully in your relationship and muster up a civil opinion on a bath mat from time to time. Manland is a country populated by the lowest form of manhood: the whiner who can’t even put aside his own (adolescent) proclivities for an hour to help his wife carry a Shrömpfken – one that he’s probably going to enjoy sleeping on himself.
I’m not sure what’s less appealing: a man who wants to go to Manland or a woman who wants to “drop off” her husband there. Every baby-man in pop culture has his counterpart in the eye-rolling/arms-across-the- chest bemused female killjoy. Manland perpetuates the myth that ladies love shopping only slightly more than they love demoralizing their husbands.
The baby-man meme...where the undeveloped, immature, withdrawn and self-indulgent narcissistic male of the species is 'dropped-off' by his more mature, gregarious, interdependent and integrated female partner in order to reduce the potential for a "melt-down" usually associated with two-year-old temper tantrums...hmmmmmm!
This is not a good picture for any "Y" chromosome-bearing "homo sapiens". In fact, it is so regressive, so insulting and so pathetic as to be another sign of the tragedy that is 21st century masculinity, or at least its portrayal and even its widely held stereotype in the minds, eyes and hearts of many women.And apparently, in the boardroom of IKEA.
There is a pattern to much of what is perceived as "reality" in current vernacular, and thereby current perceptions. Just as the definition of depression in the DSM IV is derived from the descriptions of female patients/clients from practicing psychiatrists, so too is the definition of healthy masculinity derived, we suspect, from the cynical, victimized and too-frequent female conversation in all workplaces, coffee shops, docctors' offices, and soccer practices. Women talk about their men to other women. Men, on the other hand, are sworn to silence, as if it were a code of honour, both to other men and to women.
Fifteen years after I left a marriage of twenty-three years, a marriage that included three daughters, I met a former colleague with whom I had worked and commuted for well nigh twenty years. His first comment, not having spoken with me in the interim, was, "I never heard you say anything negative about your former spouse!"
To which I responded, "Well, no one else did either! Those are private matters left better in that private file."
On the other hand, at this very moment, in hospitals, police stations, ambulance stations, banks, professional offices of every genre, schools, universities and even corporations, women are, among other things, "drubbing out their men" for irresponsibility, for negligence, for passive aggressive attitudes and behaviour, for missing an important date on the calendar, for "going out to play" when the family, or the leaky faucet needed serious attention. Women seem to be fed by such conversations, perhaps because it reinforces the victim archetype in which many have been stuck for many decades.
It was Carol Pearson (The Hero Within) who pointed out barely a decade or two ago that North American society was/is (?) dominated by two archetypes, the victim (women) and the warrior (men). In the public media, in advertising, in film and television, such archetypes (morphed into stereotypes) set the  "norm" and billions of dollars of television programming in both revenues and expenditures circulate around the depiction of these two archetypes, sometimes in exclusively male conversation (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory) or in exclusively female conversation (Desperate Housewives)...Of course, the women's liberation movement was originally designed to point out the legitimate stengths, capabilities and leadership qualities of all women, in the hope that most, if not all, would rise to the top of the corporate, professional and even political ladder in their field, thereby levelling the playing field in status, in pay and in role modelling with men.
The men of my acquaintance, who have done the work of acknowledging our single-minded pursuit of power/money/status to the neglect of our families and our emotional development for the first half century of our lives and have followed that 'confession' with a new, less stressful and less ambitious path to a greater degree of both inner peace and relationship accord, without having in any way abandoned our masculinity, are clearly not the majority. In fact, we threaten other mostly younger men who, so far, have not hit their wall, or seen the light, depending on the "fish-in-the-face" that has struck them in a painful epiphany.
So there is not only a macro division between women and men, but a slightly less macro, but still not micro separation among different groups of men. And this division, including how "macho" men react to gay men in such a frightened and alienating manner, is at least as problematic to the evolution of masculinity, as is the continuing sandpaper roughness that comprises many male-female partnerships.
There is a significant need for straight men to embrace (not in the physical, but in the political sense) gay men. Men like Brian Burke, hardly a male insecure about his masculinity, attending and putting a public face on the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto, in honour of his deceased gay son make a significant contribution to the integration of gay and straight men. Of course, the current Mayor of Toronto's refusal to attend that same parade, preferring the "cottage" for the weekend, tips the scales back into the predictable, proverbial separation between the two groups.
Similarly, the issue of fighting in pro hockey is an example of the divide between the "macho" defenders and the "evolved" agents of change. Don Cherry fills his bank account selling video of hockey violence, some of it acceptable, much of it potential career and/or life threatening, all of  dedicated to preserving a "rough" and "natural" form of masculinity, to the denigration of a more sophisticated, intellectual and creative pursuit of the same rubber disc. While public opinion polls demonstrate that 74% of those asked would prefer to see fighting removed from the game, leaving only 24% supporting its being retained, fights are replayed on the television screens inside and outside the arenas, as a last gasp of air for the museum pieces they ought to have become decades ago.
Fighting about fighting is really analogous to the debates that have occurred for the last twenty years about the dangers of cigarette smoke, both primary and secondary. Everyone knows about the dangers and the risks, and yet the ardvaarks prevail, because change will hurt the game, or (upspoken) change will reduce the opportunity for men to be real men.
In many ways, this is a clinging to a fossil of the past, for the sake of denying the present and the future. Men can be diligent, competive, resourceful and disciplined, and uphold their (and our) masculinity while playing any game, including professional hockey, without once raising their fist, or taking a deliberate shot at the head of an opponent. Fast-paced skills, anticipation, creativity, imagination, intuition including open-ice body checks do not, and will not, downgrade the game. In fact, they will always enhance the game, and the spectators' appreciation for it.
It is a desperate clinging to a long-worn-out stereotype that infuses too much of North American life that must be put to rest. A story from a pulp and paper mill, relayed through a safety officer may illustrate my point. A new recruit was using a metal pole to roll a large roll of paper (several tons in weight) along the floor, when a veteran of the plant noticed. "That's not how we do it here!" he shouted, putting his shoulder into the roll to accomplish the procedure in his "manly" manner. When the young recruit attempted to regain his masculinity in front of the critic, he dislocated his shoulder, requiring medical attention, incurring significant costs for the health care system and failing to help the older generation evolve to a more safe, less "physical" and less dangerous way of doing things in that plant.
It is the division between the "effete" males (words chosen by the stereotype of masculinity) and the "real men" (again words chosen by the same group) that is at issue here. And to paint this as a male-female conflict is to miss the essential ingredient of the conflcit. It is, essentially, an internal conflict within each man that has no, or very little. public expression in a conciliatory and collegial manner to guide men into full acceptance of their own complex reality.
Only if and when men, all men, both straight and gay, become comfortable in our own reality, and with each other will this chasm be bridged. When we come to acknowledge that 10% of all men are gay, including those in the NHL, the NFL, the NBA, the IFFA, and the World Cup of Football, and openly agree that they too are legitimate members of the "Y" chromosome fraternity, without fear, without rancour, without bigotry and without sepregation will there be some opening of the door and window of opportunity to bringing about healing of this age-old separation between and among men.
And this by Dr. Peter Nieman, Globe and Mail, October 8, 2011
The question

My teen boy confided in me that he’s gay, but he’d like for me to not tell his dad. I’m conflicted - he’s my husband, and I tell him everything. I know he’d be okay with it, but should I keep my son’s secret?
The answer
You are caught between two people you really care about. There is a potential for conflict and a loss of trust. One way of looking at this issue is that, ultimately, your husband will find out about your son’s situation.
Honesty may be the best policy, but it is also an issue of finding the right time for all involved.

If your husband finds out that you knew all along, he may wonder why you did not tell him. Your husband may have questions as to why his son felt it necessary to keep this secret from him.
I would go back to your son and find out more about why he doesn't want his dad to know. He may have a good reason or perhaps he has a friend who is gay and whose parents were very upset when they first found that out.
Tell him why you think your husband will not be upset, and see if your son agrees with your perspective. If not, I would keep your son's trust and not tell your husband.
Gay teens may experience rejection: they feel ostracized, judged and often fear that they may be physically harmed. They are therefore fearful and they may only confide to those they feel they can trust. Not all gay teens experience their parents support and understanding . Some have had a parent who became very emotional upon finding out their child is gay.
These parents may experience shock, disbelief, disappointment, sorrow, guilt, confusion, embarrassment - especially when the news comes as a complete surprise.
If your son ever decides it is okay to tell his dad, and your husband is not as okay as you anticipated, then the whole family should see a psychologist for support. The new dynamic takes time - and sometimes seeing a professional will help with the adjustment.
Editor's Note:
It is the father this teen is afraid to tell that he is gay, not the mother. And such stories are being repeated over and over. While teaching secondary school, I was greeted after school one day by a brilliant graduate, who had gone on and graduated from university. When I innocently asked, "And have you married?" his response was breathing, memorable and worthy of repeating: "No, and you're not stupid, but please do not tell my parents, especially my father." This incident occurred in the late seventies, or perhaps early eighties of the last century. And while times have changed somewhat, the questions are still dangling without answers, amid much angst today.
(I invite your comments, via e-mail, to

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