XY Files

We know about the gendered wage gaps in the workplace. It’s old news that women are wildly underrepresented in top leadership positions at companies across the nation. And it’s clear that men need to be on board in order to for women to achieve equity in the workplace. Men have a central role in improving the workplace as we move into the future. But to be effective in accomplishing productive solutions, we need to scratch beneath the surface and look beyond salary and the corner office.

Most men believe that all people should have the same opportunities based on qualifications, not gender. What about that guy at the conference table — you know, the one who means well but still puts a sexist foot in his mouth.

Allow me to suggest a few tips to share with co-workers about why gender equity matters and what men can do in taking a lead.

As I explain in my book Men and Feminism, masculine privilege is the idea that society awards certain unearned perks and advantages on men simply because they are male. Sometimes this privilege is really obvious, like the fact that Congress remains overwhelmingly male. But masculine privilege also flies under the radar. Institutional practices and ideological beliefs about masculine superiority seem so normal or natural that we’ve learned not to notice when a man’s opinion is taken more seriously than a woman’s.

And, let’s face it. The workplace is nothing if not an institution.

As Michael Welp explains, it’s to men’s individual advantage to inquire more about others and step back a bit from chronic self-advocacy and self-promotion. Listening more and speaking less can “collectively shift the culture in organizations toward more inclusion.”

If it’s a hard sell to convince folks with power and privilege to step aside and share a bit of that pie, then it helps to remember that gender equity improves a company’s bottom line. Michael Kimmel points out that equality “increases a company’s profitability, enhances its reputation in the outside world, and boosts employee morale.”

Exposing invisible patterns and practices allows us to think critically about the links between gender privilege and sexism. One way masculine privilege operates is in how men (and women) are taught to see sexism as “individual acts of meanness,” says scholar Peggy McIntosh. What’s really going on, though, is that sexism is supported by invisible systems that perpetuate and maintain dominance for men as a group.

What Men Can Do (and Encourage Other Men to Do):

1.    Engage don’t interrupt. Be quiet. Don’t talk-over others. Communication is a two-way street, and some people have been socialized to cross that street more slowly than others. Research shows that women speak less when they’re outnumbered while men are groomed for assertiveness. Simply put: talk less; listen more.

2.    Wait for a response before continuing. Ask more questions and don’t assume you know more than the person you’re speaking to.

3.    Remember: authority, expertise and strength come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and wardrobes. A hot manicure does not preclude a hot IQ as 16-year-old Mensa-member Lauren Marbe can attest.

In my recent book Men Speak Out, a collection of first-person perspectives on gender, sex, and power, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson sums up the issues of privilege in the workplace really well. Ian was part of a mixed-gender volunteer crew working to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward in post-Katrina New Orleans. “Men would often challenge women’s competence on the worksite, particularly women in leadership positions. For instance, men often assumed women were ignorant about using tools, leading men to inappropriately offer unsolicited advice to women about how they should do their work,” Breckenridge-Jackson explains. And even though he was tempted to step in, take over, do the job himself, and explain to the women how things get done, he had to check himself. “All men owe this both to the women in their lives and to themselves.”

There might not be a perfect solution, but we can certainly start the process, and we can easily commit earnestly to change. Men have a crucial role in promoting this workplace change by refusing to be bystanders to the problem.

First published on www.onthemarc.org.

Just a quick hit today on a book I’m about to get my hands on, titled The Decline of Men: How the American Male Is Tuning Out, Giving Up, and Flipping Off His Future, by Guy Garcia. Coming on the heels of Michael Kimmel’s most excellent Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, I’m eager to see how it, um, measures up.

From the Publishers Weekly review:

Garcia (The New Mainstream) explores disturbing trends of men leading increasingly socially isolated lives and dropping out of high school and college in record numbers, naming them victims of an invisible epidemic. According to the author, modern men have failed to forge a new and productive role in the 21st century. Garcia charts the rise of feminism and the changing societal roles of both men and women, illustrating how and why men have become so confused about what defines masculinity; having lost their traditional role as provider and protector, men flirt with hollow substitute identities—drawing on Jackass culture (men pretending to be boys), gangster culture (boys pretending to be men) and metrosexual obsessions with grooming and body image—that have reductively redefined manhood and led men away from compassion, responsibility and family. Garcia wisely avoids degrading feminism or pitting men against women; instead, he offers an astute and well-researched meditation on how men might reclaim their identity and place in modern America and why such a transformation is important to future generations of both men and women. (Oct.)

Paging Clark Kent?

Obama family in repose
Kennedy family in reposeAnd for this week’s XY FILES (also a little late!), I wanted to share some analysis from my guy Marco, who continues to blog up a storm over at Open Salon. In his post this week over there, “Postcards from Camelot,” Marco offers a comparative analysis of political family portraiture from the days pre-Betty Friedan with today’s, juxtaposing a portrait of the Obama family that appeared on the Obama campaign’s website, and a portrait of the Kennedy family at Hyannisport circa 1962. Writes Marco,

While Barack is dressed identically to JFK, down to the wristwatch (signifier of male diligence during downtime), it is ironically Michelle who seems the more work-ready in the 2008 image. She is much more formal here than Jackie, as befitting a contemporary professional mom, yet it is also possible that the zetgeist is not yet ready for a black First Lady in leisure attire. Certainly this is true in corporate America, where non-white professionals can still feel the need to one-up their white colleagues in formality just to achieve equal parity.
At a time when Sarah Palin’s suitability for office is questioned even by liberals in the context of motherhood, it is significant that it is Barack whom the daughters embrace. Here we have a signifier not only of progressive gender politics but of the increasing importance of family values in the political sphere. The Obamas are in that sense a tighter unit here than the Kennedys; in the Kennedy image Jack looks true to the pre-Betty Friedan era, a man in proximity to his family yet not unduly “enmeshed”, which implicitly allowed him the freedom to work and “play” outside the domestic realm. Not so Obama, who must project utter wholesomeness in a post-Lewinsky landscape.


Debbie’s post on presidential masculinity in the XY Files got me thinking. My FSC colleague Lisa Eck studies hybridity and postcolonial literature: at the gym the other day, she noted that in our public discourse we don’t have much language to talk about “hybrid” status (some day it won’t be a buzz word: it means multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic). Obama=black candidate, McCain=white candidate is how it goes. We don’t know how to listen, observe, or theorize (eek!) about hybridity. So as I was thinking about what you, and Jackson, and Ellen Goodman, and others have been talking about, I thought, wow, Obama offers a kind of hybrid gender performance to go with his hybrid racial identity, and it is working damn well!

Obama isn’t hepped up on cartoon masculinity like McCain…and yet it doesn’t make sense to think of him as using “feminine” styles in any definitive or exclusive sense. (For cartoon femininity, see Palin, Sarah.) Finally, he certainly is not androgynous in that misfit, uncomfortable “Pat” sense (remember Pat on Saturday Night Live?) But his repertoire is wide, and he is using all sorts of masculine and feminine skills that are working well–and he is avoiding the ones that don’t.

Maybe with the rise of Obama (and other leaders like him?!?!?) we will have the opportunity to sharpen our ability to notice how the plot unfolds when we are observing a candidate who contains and is directly influenced by multiple statuses all at once. And that goes for race as well as gender.

One way that I think about Obama’s successful gender expression comes from social psychology. Research on masculinity and femininity shows that children who are androgynous–that is they use skills that are typically associated with being a boy and those associated with being a girl–have greater social intelligence. They are more effective socially, better liked, more accomplished, and more appealing as partners. When you think about the gender (or race) puzzles unfolding in front of us, remember that what you are seeing is not triumph of masculinity or femininity so much as the triumph of something new, something that works.

In the excitment of our launch here this week, I–oops!–forgot to post my own column, XY FILES (myths and facts about a new generation of men).  So here we go…

Remember all that stereotyped talk during the primaries about how Barack leads like a woman (meaning, collaboratively) and Hillary leads like a man (meaning, I suppose, pantsuits)?  In a Boston Globe column last Feburary, Ellen Goodman described Barack as “the quality circle man, the uniter-not-divider, the person who believes we can talk to anyone, even our enemies.” He finely honed a language “usually associated with women’s voices,” she said.  Goodman quoted political science professor Kathleen Dolan, who saw Obama as “the embodiment of the gentle, collaborative style without threatening his masculine side.”

Well now that it’s Obama vs. McCain, the gender of leadership has become, well, a little homogenized.  It’s dude v. dude.  Again.  And one of my newfound heroes Jackson Katz (educator, author, filmmaker, bigtime FOF — that’s friend of feminism, mind you) is currently working on a book about “presidential masculinity”  that I can’t wait to read.

According to an article in UCSF Today, Katz says this election is nothing new when it comes to the important role that race and gender have historically played in campaigns for the White House.   While the level of diversity among this year’s crop of candidates is of course unprecedented, Katz suggests that the battle between the two presidential contenders still boils down to a question of who best represents the stereotypically masculine qualities of a leader: strength, steadfastness and vitality.

“This year, it’s still about masculinity,” he says. “It’s just white masculinity versus person-of-color masculinity.”

Or is it?  Isn’t the Hillary/Sarah effect (ew – I hate putting them so close together like that) still having an impact on the way we talk about leadership’s gender these days?   GWP readers J.K. Gayle and Renee Cramer had some interesting comments on this all back in February, when HRC was still in the race.  I’d love to pick up the thread again, now that the debates are all black man vs. white man.  Read the rest from Katz, and let me know what you think!

Today’s tidbits on a new generation of men:

1. Men with sexist views earn more dough. According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, sexist men in the workplace are likely to out-earn their more modern thinking counterparts. Um, really? The BBC reports, and feministing and Broadsheet respond.

2. More single men live at home with Mom and Dad than do single women. While as recently as 1980, only six percent of men reached their early 40s without marrying (compared to five percent of women), by 2004, that percentage had increased to 16.5 percent of men (and 12.5 percent of women). Even more telling, 55 percent of American men aged 18 to 24 live with their parents and 13 percent between 25 to 34 years of age still live at home, compared to only eight percent of women. Read the rest in HNN.

3. Teenage fathers are on the decline. But boys who become Baby Daddies face unique challenges as young men thrust into responsibility. As reported in ABC News, Levi Johnston, the expectant father of Bristol Palin’s unborn child, joins a small minority of his peers by becoming a teenage father. Overall, only 1.7 percent of teenage males were fathers in 2002, a decline since the early 1990s. In fact, the majority of teen mothers are impregnated by men age 20 and older. And ABC News reports that while there are many support services for teen mothers, teen fathers are often left out, despite studies showing that they are more prone to delinquency, reduced educational attainment, financial hardship and unstable marriage patterns.

(Thanks to CCF for the heads up on items 2 and 3)

I read with interest an article on single dads by choice in this weekend’s NYTimes, titled “The Bachelor Life Includes a Family.” Says a 46-year old doctor from Miami who is interviewed for the piece, “I’ve always felt that I wanted fatherhood to be a part of my life,” he said. “It’s just a core part of who I’ve always been. I absolutely would want a partner, but I couldn’t let my life wait for that random event.” Sound familiar, ladies? Seems men, too, hear the ticking of their biological clock.

Stats on single fathers by choice are few, but according to the article their numbers are growing. Surrogacy agencies say most of these men are gay, agencies say, but there are straight men seeking to become fathers too. Some figures:

-“Gail Taylor, a founder of Growing Generations, one of the largest surrogacy agencies with about 100 births a year, said 24 percent of its clients this year are single men, both gay and straight. That number is double what it was three years ago.”

-“Last month, the National Center for Health Statistics issued the first federal survey of men and women on adoption. It found that men age 18 to 44 are twice as likely as women of the same age group to have adopted a child. That men are more likely than women to adopt their stepchildren accounts for part of the gap. But, the report said, about 73,000 never-married men had also adopted a child, a group that includes those who are single fathers by choice.”

Interesting, and also raises tough questions. Does anyone know a single father by choice? I’d like to interview a bunch for my next book. Please let me know, and many thanks!

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