Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is There A Male Identity Crisis?

  I agree with what Heraclitus of Ephesus (in Asia Minor at the time, now Turkey) said twenty-five hundred years ago: "Everything changes and nothing remains still."  On the other hand, it was also said by Juvenal, the Roman poet nineteen hundred years ago: "The first of prayers, best known at all the temples, is mostly for riches."  There's some truth in that today, too. Technology strains ever forward with how we do things, but human inclinations, like greed, may ebb and flow, but remain with us.  

Scott Peck's idea of building community that so took my fancy in the early 90's, is now lost on political groups who reject others for a single disagreement on any aspect of, say, fixing the economy.  Another far cry from the gender inequality my father forced on mom back in the 50's, is the transition of women since the 60s into all levels of the workplace, colleges and graduate schools. They now outnumber men in the workforce, with more single women than single men buying homes. (Ray Williams, "Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?", (, Wired for Success, July 19, 2010).

 Women's progress seems to be under attack, and some men see it as a gender war. Guy Garcia, author in 2008 of "The Decline of Men: How The American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future," argues that many men bemoan a "fragmentation of male identity," in which husbands are asked to take on unaccustomed familial roles such as child care and housework, while wives bring in the bigger paychecks. "Women really have become the dominant gender," says Garcia, "what concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way."

But the way America does business is in transition, too. During my twenty-plus years of corporate life in the 70s and 80s that I called "ladder climbing," competition for the next level of management, among only males, was as fierce as what we aimed at business competitors. The dream was to get to the top of the heap, so I could tell everyone what to do.  Compare that to today, with companies driven by expanding technology, competing with India and China, using buzz words like interpersonal relationships and teamwork. It seems to me less a gender war than growing circumstances that favor what my teenage friends and I used to call "girly" stuff.

Raised in a male dominant world, I viewed women's temperaments as equivalent to being a woman. In the past decades of women's rise, various media articles in taking on the situation discuss separating men and women or feminine traits and masculine traits in general, or use indefinite terms like normal masculinity, genuine masculinity, our natural calling, healthy masculinity, womanly, natural God-given proclivity, innate traits, feminization, and natural instincts. Gender wars. 

 In Ray Williams' article, he says "80% of the jobs lost during this current recession have been held by men." I watched a similar thing happen in England in the early 80s, when their mining industry collapsed.  It was the men who suffered and the men who survived by changing, or not.

In America today, some young men look at the behavior of men at the top of political organizations and some religious organizations, plus salary disparities between CEOs or sports heroes and the rank and file. They're asking themselves what makes a real man today, and, where are the positive male role models? Men approaching midlife are wondering how to find better balance than just work in the second half of their lives.  Some women are unaware of the rituals, initiations and competitive environments among males that made their man the man he is today.

My interest in writing my book is not only to answer my son's question by telling him what made me who I am today, but also to stimulate conversations about other men's life transitions , their experiences compared to mine, in a positive environment. All men are not losing their way. I include women in the conversation, too. I think gender equality supports a more positive conversation than competition.  Different, yes, and equal. Teammates.    

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