Sunday, November 12, 2023

Richard Reeves, the AIBM, and Do We Really Need to Define Masculinity/Femininity and/or Success?


(*Having technical difficulty adding pics, at present, so will add later)

Watching one of my favorite news programs this morning, CBS Sunday Morning (mentioned many times before). The first segment, this morning, by Lee Cowan, was about new statistics revealing that more women are enrolled in college programs than men, as well as women are now more likely to complete a Bachelor's degree, using any statistic you like, in America, any way you slice it - and apparently, this is cause for alarm! 😆 

So some dude named Richard Reeves from the Brookings Institute thinks this is some sort of crisis and blames it on men not knowing where they fit anymore or what it means to be a man, and says that even raising these questions causes eye rolls. 

He further says it's possible to support the struggles of women AND the struggles of men.

Absolutely true, and good point!

HOWEVER - shouldn't we study this statistic more and find out why, first, rather than push a biased, untested hypothesis?

And mind you, Reeves is an economist, not a psychologist or sociologist - might be best to leave human-behavior-in-groups and  human-motivation questions to experts in those fields to study? 😉

Because although his suggestion could be the reason, and I really tried to listen to his point, IMO, he didn't convince me - and that is because all he did was pose more questions and speculate without providing any actual evidence - and that is because it hasn't been tested or studied yet.

I mean, essentially, his hypothesis is that there are less men in college because they don't know what it means to be a man anymore, so what is a man?

I might answer:  "I don't know, and I'm not sure why we have to define masculinity, but for starters, my definition of masculinity might start with the kind of man who is secure enough in his own definition of masculinity that he isn't automatically threatened by having more women in college than men?"


Now, I'm not saying he's wrong - but he hasn't proven to me he's right, either.  He asked some interesting questions and posed a hypothesis, but without answers,  he's just speculating.

All we know for a fact is that more women are enrolled in secondary education than men - but we don't know why. 

In fact, couldn't the reasons be multifactorial, as with other social sciences? 

But we'll get to those other possible factors later.

As for my own bias, I admit, when this story first came on, I kind of rolled my eyes and said "Well, welcome to the chronic identity crisis of women's world.  We have had to be mothers AND in the workforce for years, in our economy, and finding a good balance and fit is no easy task."

"And once again, we have older, fragile white male egos, so threatened by women becoming successful that they think this is a "crisis," mostly because right-wing politics says it is."

BUT - I don't want to discount how men are feeling, either, so I listened. 

But honestly, he didn't really tell me how men were feeling.  

Instead, he told me his opinion of how men are feeling, without providing any evidence whatsoever, and again, feelings are not an economist's territory of study. 

So he heads this American Institute for Boys and Men thing and has written a book called "Of Boys and Men"  a cute boy-band sort of name - but at least from what I saw, there is no real evidence to support his hypothesis on why this is occurring, only his presumption?

So let's find out why then - and by that, I mean via objective study rather than biased speculation, shall we? 

And again, as we know, or we should know, this is social science - so the answer could be multifactorial.

For starters, why are we ignoring the economic factor?

I mean, we do have a $1.77 trillion of student-loan debt in the U.S.

So who - male or female, not already wealthy - wants to sign up for becoming part of that statistic right after high school?

In fact, I've always thought it might be wise for some teenagers to take a year or two off, work and have to pay bills in the real world and settle down and decide what you want to do first before jumping into college, but it depends on the person, too.

Also, on a related note, what we do know for a fact is that America families are struggling such that that many young men feel they have to contribute immediately to the home, as an adult, and thus don't have time for college, much like in less-developed countries - so how "developed" are we then, really?

Secondly, at least the boys/men interviewed today said they just didn't feel ready for college, they were bouncing off the walls,  unfocused, undisciplined.

Okay, so ... does that automatically mean they're lost in their definition of masculinity?

I don't think we have enough information to assume that.

And actually, from another perspective, one could ask "Do boys feel like they can now take their time getting to college versus women? Do they feel comfortable being slackers at mom and dad's house or is it something else-?"

I'm not saying that either, I'm saying I don't know, WE don't know yet - I'm just saying that's an argument one could make which might actually be a good argument against Reeves's hypothesis  - which again, is reason for further study. 

Lastly, we can't ignore recent politicians making our need to define gender and masculinity and femininity, on both sides.

Well, more accurately, IMO, though both sides have made this an issue, the political left tries to be about acceptance (perhaps with some confusion) of others along the gender spectrum, while the right has pushed fear on the issue, that this is somehow a threat to white men - that accepting and giving rights to people who have less  somehow means they are endangered.

As a result, we are more polarized than ever, on these issues, with no end in sight, because we keep pushing for a rigid definition, when in my opinion, I'm not sure we need to, except in certain health or legal circumstances.

I think the problem itself has more to do with ancient, rigid definitions about what it means to be male or female that, although they may have served their culture at the time, were actually  already inaccurate, and usually design by a government (or today, a corporation) to suit their own purposes, particularly  military service.

For example, I just had this conversation with my husband: 

Me:  "Okay, so what is your definition of masculinity?" 


Mark "Pushing forward with what you need to do despite adversity." 


Me (linking twice in silence a second, giving him a chance to realize what he said)


"Oh. Do women not do that?  And if we do, it means we're masculine or-?" 


Mark: "Wait, I've seen you do that, actually, but maybe that's just ... you.  Wait, what just came out of my mouth?  Women in Africa go out and have a baby in a field and then go back and work that same field an hour later,  I couldn't do that. What am I even talking about?" 


Me (taking it easy on him, after he realized himself his own  personal definition did not match his military definition):  "I don't know, but I think you realized the difference between the cultural definition, despite evidence to the contrary and your own personal beliefs about women :)" 
"And for the record, there's no way I could have had McK in a field and gone back to work in it an hour later either, lol.  
"But what women in Africa having babies in fields and  working those fields an hour later DOES provide is proof of how our definitions of what's expected of men and women are cultural, not inherent in our gender.
"We've been indoctrinated into these definitions despite much evidence to the contrary, and they're very narrow and rigid - either you're a conquering, emotionless hero or a vegan, yogafied meditator, when it's actually a spectrum, isn't it?  Why are there always just two boxes, in either/or?" 
"When maybe it depends not just on culture, but also on the situation and the person, having nothing to do with gender, but our our personal experiences, our personality." 
"For example, if it's an emergency health issue or something which requires diplomacy, I'm the calm one, UNLESS I'm dealing with a clearly unstable person.  If it's weaponry, that's your department. Also if you've determined quicker than I have that all diplomacy efforts are going to fail with this person lol. Not because we're men and women, but because that's us as individuals. "

Also, growing up, my Dad felt that the only men who like cats are effeminate - real men only liked dogs, and they must be BIG dogs - and I knew many men in the South who agreed with him.


So what does that mean for women?  And can't we like all animals? 

That's so stupid. And untrue. Who started that nonsense? 

I'm glad our culture has shifted on that one, that men on both sides of politics have realized that they can love cats as well as dogs and it means nothing about their masculinity or femininity!

This masculinity/femininity stuff is the same thing, we just need to evaluate it and go "Who said that and why?" remembering that at one time, a culture defining what is masculine and feminine served a social-control purpose (at least for those in power, especially when it came to the military)

As for those emotions, or the lack thereof, mentioned above, I'm all for people in general getting more in touch/self-aware regarding their emotions and what motivates them to do and say what they do, but I think many have misunderstood that this means - such that they begin to believe their feelings are more important than others and should be acted on right away.

Nope.  Sometimes we have to compartmentalize them (different than stuffing them), just to get things done, or based on prioritizing whose needs are more important at that moment, or wait for the right time to discuss them; that is, if anyone wants to hear them anyway 😆

And sometimes, whether they do want to hear them or not, it's important to tell people that their feelings are impinging on yours, too 😉

And as far as gender issues, let's just put it this way - although as mentioned, I support wherever you lie on the masculine-feminine spectrum, or even the gender and sexuality spectrum - I have to  also admit, thought a strong lefty, I AM mildly annoyed with my fellow lefties pushing us to define and label things ourselves, like it's a mortal sin if we don't use the right pronoun.

Because this is how the brain works, people - it is human nature for us to categorize things, all of us.  So if we get the pronouns wrong, sure, please correct us - but don't expect us to be psychic - be as kind about it as you would like us to be towards you, yes? 

On the other side of politics, Trump has been the biggest proponent that white men "should' feel threatened by other groups getting more rights share and defining masculinity - which is ironic, because he is the most emotionally volatile president I've ever seen, acting the most fragile and "girly" and Karen-ish out of any male I think I've ever seen - according to our rigid definitions 

(But his supporters like to pretend like he isn't, or at least that his  whining, belligerence and anger are justified.) 

Meanwhile, we women still aren't allowed to be angry at all because it scares the supposedly most masculine men in our society, which kind of argues against how strong they really are then, right? 

I mean, these types of "macho" men believe they can handle incoming missiles at their heads or a hand-to-hand combat with their military enemy, but God forbid their girlfriends or wives are  mad at you, oh, no, then it's time to put on the riot gear and call the national guard, that's the scariest thing around? 😆

OR is it simply that men with this mentality simply feel than can forcibly control women easier than they can control versus a military enemy? 😉

(As an aside, though I've mentioned, my husband was in the military and did lots of masculine things, he is is NOT the sort of men that feels threatened by smart or strong women, so it is possible.)

Okay - but do these type of men have to have control over everything, and should they have control everything to their liking?

Because we women have had to sit with little or no control for years, and I promise you, you'd live, if it came to that, it's just unpleasant.

But sometimes there's just gray areas in life, no one has total control or there's a balance - why isn't that okay? 

And men stuck in this erroneous definition never seem to understand that the quickest way to get the situation under control with women is to try listening to her perspective to avoid escalation? 

Doesn't mean you have to agree, but at least value her perspective enough to listen?

Lastly, Reeves really starts to annoy me when he asks "What does a successful male look like?  We don't know anymore."

And again, I would say "What is your definition of success, and do we have to have a standardized definition  success?"

Because it might depend on the person.

Now, If you mean a financial success, well, maybe not - and just because they go to college doesn't mean they will be financially successful, anyway - again, having $1.77 trillion of student loan debt in the United States tells us that already.

And let's say either a man or a woman either lost or didn't have a father or a mother, growing up.  What if all someone wanted to be was "just a mother" or "just a father" - thus, they sacrificed the 90-hour work week so they could accomplish that goal.

Does that mean they're masculine or feminine?  Does that mean they're not strong?  Does that mean they're not a success?

Or let's say a particularly intelligent man decided to go into an arts-related field rather than math-related field, though equally good at both, just because he enjoyed it more - does that make him less masculine?

Or a particularly intelligent woman, who is also nurturing, choose a career field that kept her intellect stimulated and busy, but also refused the C-suite 90-hour-work day, so she could also be a mother?

Does that mean she's not successful?

If you ask them versus our standard definition, you might find their answer surprising. 

So just like our definitions of masculine and feminine have been  overly rigid and culturally pushed from those in power and erroneous from the start, so are our definitions of success, then yes?

So instead of viewing this is some kind of crisis, Mr. Reeves, perhaps we need to just need to start thinking outside the box a bit more - but I understand why this is "scary" to people who can't do that and need things to fit neatly into them (despite most things in life not being that way).. 

Regardless, Richard Reeves, might be onto something - but I think he's not just oversimplifying the issue, but jumping to conclusions about these statistics, based on his own bias - and as we know, if we study statistics further based on a biased hypothesis, the results will be skewed and will not stand up to peer review. 

Because if I were an academic at X Ivy League School, and you presented these statistics without your biased hypothesis attached to, I'd definitely support a grant for further study - UNLESS - that's your biased hypothesis from the get go, when we now know that most social-science conclusions are often multifactorial.  

Took us long enough to figure that out, despite already knowing that humans are very complex psychological creatures 😀

Which is my final thought - Reeves is an economist, not a psychologist or sociologist.  Best leave the question of what is motivating/not motivation men to attend college to experts in the fields of psychology and sociology to study, hmm?

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