Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Men in Crisis? It's Not Even a Bad Hair Day.

Today I read yet another piece about men in crisis. This time, it was David Brooks with the New York Times. He started out with a story about men who've been on the wrong side of history in times of transition, just like John Wayne's character in the movie The Searchers. He then used this interesting intro to take me right into the tired old argument that society has somehow come to favor girls and is leaving boys behind.

While I do understand the argument that the definition of masculinity is changing (or, some might say, the role of concepts like "masculinity" is diminishing), I trust no one who promotes this as a symbol of men in crisis. However, there are certain arguments that I see repeatedly that I simply don't understand.

Boys are seemingly doing worse in school, and so something must be very different and wrong about our schools now. We regularly hear about how the classroom environment is bad for boys. Boys are ACTIVE! They're RAMBUNCTIOUS! They like to MOVE and RUN and DESKS AND SITTING ARE DESTROYING THEM IN SCHOOL! I'm sorry for the all caps, but that's how these alarmist pieces about the "crisis" men are facing read to me. But I'd like to know when schools were giant playgrounds where kids just ran around playing all the time and never had to sit in desks? When was this golden age of the boy-oriented school house, where teachers didn't demand silence, stillness, and attention? I'd think that the average classroom today is a freer environment in many places than it ever was in, oh, 1950, when boys supposedly (and certainly did) have it so good. When I see pictures of the ideal classroom of that time, I see...rows of desks. Where children sit. Still. And face a chalkboard and get in trouble for making noise or getting up from their desks without permission. And while some point to the diminishing role of recess in school, as of 2011 only 7% of American schools had cut our recess -- but that doesn't mean they'd cut out physical education. And that also doesn't take into account higher grades in which students still have access to sports programs.

I'm not sure this constitutes some major shift in the level of physical activity children are getting when compared with decades past. And 7% is definitely not a "crisis." School of today looks an awful lot like...the schools of always?

That argument was merely hinted at in the David Brooks piece. The main thing that caught my attention was:

In 1954, 96 percent of American men between 25 and 54 years old worked. Today, 80 percent do. One-fifth of men in their prime working ages are out of the labor force.
As Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has put it, “The situation here is basically a disaster, a crisis far worse than most commentators and policy makers seem to recognize, and with no clear prospects for appreciable improvement over the near-term horizon.”

A CRISIS?! A while back, I was discussing my PIE theory. Resources are not infinite. So imagine there's a pie. And imagine that white men for a very long time had, oh, 95% of the pie. That leaves 5% of the pie for everyone else to split. So when those who are sharing 5% start to get more of the pie, those getting 95% start to get...less. It's simple math. A white man who listened to the podcast on which I shared my theory said he was intrigued by my ideas. He'd always been taught in school that if you worked hard enough, you could have anything you wanted! It's an interesting concept that resources are finite? I'm embarrassed for American education that someone was so able to believe some elementary school clap trap for so long in the face of sheer physical reality, but it's also because he's a white man that he was able to believe this without question well into adulthood.

In 1954, only 23% of the overall workforce was made up of women. Today it is nearly half. Assuming there are only so many jobs to go around, this would obviously precipitate a dip in the number of jobs held by men -- and I don't see anything remotely crisis-like about that. So the employment rates between men and women have simply become more even. And I would assume that some of that 80% of men not participating in employment today are supported by those working women. We don't see it as a crisis when men support women -- why would we see it as so in the reverse?

But if you want to talk about a crisis, let's look at this: the latest employment numbers (June, 2013) show an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent for whites, and 13.7 for blacks. Blacks are unemployed at more than double the rate of whites. THAT'S a crisis. Also, it calls the numbers David Brooks brings to the conversation into question. The unemployment rate for adult men in June 2013? Seven percent.


I am very over these men in crisis pieces. They're derailing for dummies 101 level bullshit. Men are not in crisis (at least not the kinds of men these pieces are talking about). Heck, they haven't even given up enough of the pie yet.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Feelings, Facts, and Faith

Last night, as I listened to the testimony of Texans who showed up to speak both for and against HB2, the abortion legislation of which by now I’m sure you’ve heard, I noticed a pattern. Those who argued against the restrictions brought up scientific and medical facts and information. Meanwhile, those in favor of the legislation mostly shared very personal stories and overwhelming emotions about their own choices.

The fact that they were talking about their own choices seemed to be lost on them.

One theme that continuously surfaced was that of the woman who regrets her abortion. When a woman shares that she regrets her abortion, I feel genuine compassion for her. Who among us doesn’t know the sting of regret? I know what it is to regret a decision, and that pain can be intense. I don’t want to mock her testimony or her feelings. However, her regrets over her own life choices have nothing to do with whether or not a piece of legislation should pass. If the government exists to protect me from regret, then we need laws against my saying certain kinds of things because it’s my mouth that most often leaves me feeling regret. I’m sure we can all see the problem with the logic behind such laws, and that same logic applies to the regret standard that some try to apply to abortion legislation. Your regrets are not the governments business.

This argument in particular stuck out to me because I used to kind of believe it. I’ve never been opposed to abortion because of strong religious conviction. While I’m a Christian, I don’t feel that my spiritual beliefs have much to do with this type of legislation. No. I used to say that “abortion isn’t even necessarily good for women” because “most women don’t feel good about having abortions.” We all have things we said in our youth that cause us to shake our own heads in shame years later, and I can’t believe I ever thought that women needed to be protected from their own choices by their government. Put that way, it makes me shudder.

Luckily, I’ve learned from my own experiences.

I’ve learned that a woman can have an abortion and experience no regrets – and that this doesn’t make her a “bad person.” I’ve learned that a woman can have an abortion, feel regrets, but still believe she ultimately made the right choice. I’ve learned that people’s lessons are myriad and complicated and we’re here to learn, not to experience pain-free lives. In fact, I’ve learned that “pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth,” and I’ve learned to be grateful for my own pain because it’s my greatest teacher. And I’ve learned that I don’t get to rob others of the chance to make their own choices because it is those choices that lead them to their own ultimate destinies.

There’s a lot of God in all of that for me.

If a woman who regrets her abortion wants me to sit and weep with her, I will gladly do so. I’m not blind or deaf to her pain. But I also cannot support the idea that her pain is proof that women need to be “protected” from their own choices.  

In the end, I have enough faith in both women and my God to know believe that they don't need me or anyone else to be in charge.