Why men don’t speak out against sexism and misogyny

When we feel ashamed or judged, we have several possible ways of responding. One IMG_0516method of dealing with shame is to defend yourself vigorously, to deny anything is wrong, and to attack those who might think differently. We can imagine the loud protests of Hamlet’s mother, though perhaps Hamlet’s attack on his mother is equally revealing. A second method, which is my preferred method, is to try to suppress it, hide it, and pretend it does not exist, and I think I have plenty of company with millions of people struggling with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and a myriad of shortcomings. This kind of shame destroys you from the inside out. The third and most difficult method of dealing with shame is to acknowledge it, confront it, and try to resolve it in some way. When we meet individuals who can do this, we admire them, praise them, and exalt them, which is as it should be. Think of a former member of the KKK who becomes a civil rights leader, for example.

In the aftermath of Elliot Rodgers’ mass killing, pundits, analysts, feminists, psychologists, and just about everyone else has jumped to understand and explain what may cause someone to want to kill with such intensity and drive. It appears that Rodgers dealt with feelings of deep shame and inadequacy because he felt he failed as a man because he couldn’t convince women to have sex with him. Many men, even those who have had their share of sexual encounters, share his shame, but fewer question the assumptions that create that shame. Men are expected to be on a constant mission to prove themselves through sexual conquests, and most men internalize this to one degree or another in the same way that women internalize attitudes toward body image.

It isn’t surprising, then, that many men reacted defensively to discussions of sexist attitudes and their dire consequences. Who is going to say, “I see now that I’ve bought into a dangerous belief system. I see that my way of thinking leads to mass murder.”? Not many, which might explain the emotional and unrelated defenses of Glenn Beck, Seth Rogen, and all the men who reacted negatively to #yesallwomen. Beck went on a long tirade against the idea that sexual assault and harassment is prevalent and suggested that people are calling normal, consensual sex rape. Rogen responded to Ann Hornaday’s critique of media that depicts women as trophies by tweeting, ““How dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage.”

These men want to make clear that they are not part of the problem. They recognize that their attitudes and maybe even their actions are now being criticized as part of the problem, and they are saying, “Hey, don’t point the finger at me.” They may also realize they have internalized the values that oppress and torture men. We may want to respond to #yesallwomen with #notallmen, but the fact is that all men, at least in my culture, are familiar with the beliefs and attitudes that shame men for “purity” and women for “sexual prowess.” We feel it deep in our bones, and it makes us uncomfortable.

In the next wave, many women wonder why more “enlightened” men don’t speak up and stand with them. To be fair, many men have shown the courage to do this, but doing so requires us all to look inside and examine what we may prefer to hide and suppress. You don’t have to be a rapist or a murderer to recognize common feelings or assumptions you may have or may have once had, and it can create a kind of soul-burning shame.

Few tasks in life are as difficult as confronting our own shame. The attitudes and beliefs that define us as men and women touch us at the core of our being. A thoughtful, honest, complex, and courageous discussion of how to liberate and protect men and women will be lengthy and arduous, but a better world is possible.

PS: And let’s have a discussion about access to guns as well.

For more on shame, see the work of Brené Brown.

 

If correlation isn’t causation, what is?

If you get into any kind of discussion of a controversial topic these days, someone is likely to try to shut you down with a simple “correlation does not prove causation, stupid” kind of refrain. And they are correct that correlation cannot prove causation (a funny website named Spurious Correlations has gone viral). The rub, though, is that correlation cannot prove causation because causation is, shall we just say, difficult to prove. Further, if you want to find the cause of something (say X), you are really going to need to look for things that correlate with X.

For example, say a certain area of the world has begun to have earthquakes regularly when they were almost nonexistent before. If you find that a certain type of gas extraction had begun just before the increase in earthquakes, you might wonder whether this correlation might offer any hints into the cause of the earthquakes. If you could find no correlation between the earthquakes and anything else, you might begin to describe the earthquakes as mysterious and unexplained.

Why? Because correlation is the biggest hint of where causation might be found. The Hume and Ifamous Scottish philosopher, David Hume, laid out some rules for judging causes and their effects. The third rule says there must be constant union between the cause and effect (and it is this correlation that “chiefly” constitutes the causal relation). In fact, it is the constant conjunction between like causes and like effects that reinforces or justifies our belief in causation itself. In other words, without correlation, we would have no reason to believe in causation at all.

Hume also points out that we can observe correlations, but we cannot observe causation. If you ask someone to describe an observation of causation, you will hear a story about a correlation. Because causation cannot be directly observed, our belief in causation cannot be verified. Our belief in causation comes from an instinct to believe in causation and not from any rational argument or proof of causation. Hume points out that even animals are born with a belief in causation even without the benefit of the rational ability to study philosophical or scientific arguments.

To be sure, once you’ve identified a correlation, you can begin the work of determining whether the supposed causes are actually responsible for the effects you’ve observed. You may not get proof, but you can get more and more evidence so that your belief in the cause is more and more justified. No matter how much evidence you get, though, you will have started with a correlation.

So, it is true that correlation does not prove causation, but a statistically significant correlation is a good place to begin your search for a cause. If you know of a way to find causation without first observing a correlation or to prove causation, please leave it in the comments.

Performing masculinity and grief: A death of my own

When I was fifteen years old, my 25-year-old uncle died in a fire

While some older adults had feared for his well being for some time, his death was sudden, unexpected, and extremely traumatic for me. In times of grief, we all experience mixed emotions, but I was overwhelmed by feelings of confusion and isolation.

In the days following his death, my time was spent among both close and distant relatives in the home of my grandparents. When people interacted with me at all, it was generally to tell me to give comfort to someone else (“Go hug your grandfather.” “Hold your grandmother’s hand.”). I did my best, and I got through it. I had been to funerals before, but this was the first time I was so close to the deceased and so aware of the judgments of the people attending the funeral and receptions at the home later. Someone, usually a woman, didn’t cry enough or dared to wear pants to a funeral. Someone else, usually a man, fell to pieces and couldn’t keep it together. Certain friends should not have dared to show their faces, and others had no excuse for not coming. Or so it was stated by the chorus of judgment and scorn.

I tried my best to assimilate funeral normativity, but it really didn’t make sense to me. Years later, I cried at my grandfather’s funeral. This seemed a reasonable to me, and I didn’t predict being judged for it. After the funeral, one of my relatives asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was a writer. She said, “I knew you must be some kind of sensitive artist or something.” So much for the freedom to openly grieve for a close relative at his funeral. Do women face this kind of judgment?

But men who do not express emotions openly aren’t free from judgment or consequences, either. Kenneth Doka, an expert of grief counseling, said in an interview, ‘We do a strange thing with grieving styles. I always say we disenfranchise instrumental grievers early in the process. “What’s wrong with this person? Why isn’t he crying?”’ The man who manages his grief by working through it with projects, helping others, and so on is ignored. The man who emotes openly is criticized. Doka points out that more emotive grievers are penalized later (Why isn’t she over it yet?).

My uncle’s funeral may be when I first developed my revulsion at smug hypocrisy and self-righteous pity. I can remember one aunt declaring, loudly, “Well, if his death had anything to do with drugs, I just don’t want to know about it. That is not what is important now.” And this may also be when I first became aware of paradox. If she believed what she said, she would not have said it, and if she said it, she obviously didn’t believe it. (And a lifelong love of philosophy is born.) Anyway, I also developed my own sense of righteous indignation toward people who couldn’t offer condolences without poking people with daggers in the process.

In my first experience with traumatic grief, the people I would normally turn to for emotional support were all overwhelmed emotionally and intellectually. I don’t blame or resent anyone for it, but I was alone with my grief and my first experiences with this kind of loss. Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance was killed in a motorcycle accident, and I just never took the continued existence of anyone for granted again. I also accepted grieving as a solitary activity.

The next traumatic loss I experienced was described in an earlier post. My niece and nephew drowned on Mother’s Day (May 10) in 1992. The single most striking feature of this grief experience for me is the memory of many friends, coworkers, and family members coming to me to express their condolences and sincere concern for the suffering and recovery of my ex-wife. People lamented that it must be extremely hard on my wife, and I was admonished to take good care of her, as her suffering must be immense. I tried to do those things, of course, as I tried to manage my own emotions and continue to care for my children (I was an at-home dad at the time) and maintain a functioning household.

During this time, I had thoughts that terrified me and flooded me with shame. I began daydreaming, almost longing, for the death of someone who would be important to no one but me. A death that would bring me the kind of comfort and concern that had been reserved for my ex-wife during what was certainly the most challenging and traumatic event of my life to that point. I was horrified to think that I could wish anyone dead. Of course, no one in the world is important only to me. Everyone I love is loved by others as well. Further, I wouldn’t trade any of my loved ones for “good grieving.” (I will add that one friend in particular stood by me and cared for me throughout.)

The true fantasy, of course, was that someone would step in to help me through my current grief, not that I wanted anyone to die. Still, these thoughts became pervasive and persistent enough to plague me with guilt and interfere even more with my recovery. What I really wanted was to receive the same support I was expected to give. I don’t really want to be the only person in the world being cared for; I just want a reciprocal arrangement. I don’t know whether every man feels the same way, but I know I’m not the only one.

Why is it that being a man is to be sentenced to a life bereft of emotional support? When women say they want to meet a sensitive man, they generally mean they want to meet a man who attends to their emotional needs, not a man who openly expresses his own emotional needs let alone a man openly expresses his emotional frailty.

I dream of a world where grief is not gendered and where masculinity is not marked by solitary sorrow.

Horton’s Taxonomy of Racial Prejudice

It seems we keep having people make racist remarks and then proclaim, defensively, that they are not racists. Some people are so hostile that their claims of innocence are both laughable and infuriating, but others seem genuinely bemused by the accusation that they are racist. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could be so clueless, their critics think, that their attitudes would not be obvious to them. In other cases, people strive with everything they have against being racist, only to find to their dismay and horror that they have unconscious racial biases.

In order to sort things out, I think we need to recognize a few categories of racism:

1. Overt racial hostility. In this category we have white supremacists (or other kinds of supremacists, even, depending on your location and circumstances). People in this category believe other races are inferior and will not apologize for saying so. We can renounce them, but we aren’t likely to shame them, as they are quite self-righteous in their belief in their own superiority (leaving their latent fears and anxieties aside for the moment).

2. Racial Prejudice. Some people say they don’t hate anyone or want anyone harmed, but they just happen to believe it is a brute fact that people from different races are different and have different abilities and preferences. People in this category can be the most confounding, as they might say things that are outlandish to the rest of us and then become extremely offended that anyone could possibly accuse them of racism. “I don’t hate such and such people, but they sure hate hard work. God love ‘em.”

3. Racial insensitivity. Sometimes people genuinely don’t mean any harm at all but have no idea how their comments may hurt others. Assuming a person of a particular race enjoys a certain kind of music, dance, food, or whatever may seem completely reasonable to you while it reduces that person to a broad stereotype. Even if the person does happen to like that music or food, he or she may resent you making any assumptions about their taste based merely on race or ethnicity.

4. Racial privilege. A member of my family once said he couldn’t understand why certain groups were always complaining about police harassment. He mentioned that he had many experiences with the police and he had always been treated with respect and courtesy. It didn’t occur to him that his skin color, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class had anything to do with his treatment. That certain groups are targeted for mistreatment seemed inconceivable to him because he never had to experience what others endure regularly. This is the nature of racial privilege. (Yes, many kinds of privilege exist, but they aren’t relevant to this discussion.)

5. Unconscious and undesired racial bias. Finally, we all have biases without realizing it. When people take psychological tests (you can take one here) to see what biases they have, they may be chagrined to find they are biased against others without wanting to, but some of us are even surprised to find we hold implicit biases against our own social groups. Even those who are aware of no bias whatsoever find that some biases are so deeply entrenched that they are difficult to detect. Ironically, those with the least ill feelings toward other races are, in my experience, more aware of implicit bias. Confront an obvious racist about overt racial attitudes, and he or she will often declare, loudly, that he or she is completely indifferent to race. In my experience, those who are most committed to ending racial prejudice are the ones who are also most willing to examine their own implicit biases. Such is life.