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AN UPSIDE DOWN DEFINITION


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A NEW MODEL OF MASCULINITY


MASCULINITY:

AN UPSIDE DOWN DEFINITION Masculinity: An Upside Down Definition is an editorial publication that observes America’s current perspective on masculinity as an outdated and destructive concept. The publication features articles “The Boys Are Not All Night” by Michael Ian Black and “A New Model of Masculinity,” both originally published in the New York Times. “The Boys Are Not All Night” describes boys’ internal conflict in needing to conform to society’s terms for what it means to be a man. “A New Model of Masculinity” features letters in response to Micheal Ian Black’s article. The print experience challenges readers to confront the writing directly and visualize these important topics as relevant and current issues.

THE BOYS ARE NOT ALL RIGHT Michael Ian Black | Op-Ed Contributor

A NEW MODEL OF MASCULINITY Letters | Opinion

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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A version of this article appears in print on February 21, 2018, on Page A23 of the New York Times with the headline: “The Boys Are Not All Right.”

MICHAEL IAN BLACK

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“America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.”

I used to have this one-liner: “If you want to emasculate a guy friend, when you’re at a restaurant, ask him everything that he’s going to order, and then when the waitress comes … order for him.” It’s funny because it shouldn’t be that easy to rob a man of his masculinity — but it is. Last week, 17 people, most of them teenagers, were shot dead at a Florida school. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School now joins the ranks of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine and too many other sites of American carnage. What do these shootings have in common? Guns, yes. But also, boys. Girls aren’t pulling the triggers. It’s boys. It’s almost always boys. America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us. The brokenness of the country’s boys stands in contrast to its girls, who still face an abundance of obstacles but go into the world increasingly well equipped to take them on.

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The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America. Girls today are told that they can do anything, be anyone. They’ve absorbed the message: They’re outperforming boys in school at every level. But it isn’t just about performance. To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to “be a man” — we no longer even know what that means. Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language


MICHAEL IAN BLACK

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that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine. Men feel isolated, confused and conflicted about their natures. Many feel that the very qualities that used to define them — their strength, aggression and competitivenes — are no longer wanted or needed; many others never felt strong or aggressive or competitive to begin with. We don’t know how to be, and we’re terrified. But to even admit our terror is to be reduced, because we don’t have a model of masculinity that allows for fear or grief or tenderness or the day-to-day sadness that sometimes overtakes us all. Case in point: A few days ago, I posted a brief thread about these thoughts on Twitter, knowing I would receive hateful replies in response. I got dozens of messages impugning my manhood; the mildest of them called me a “soy boy” (a common insult among the alt-right that links soy intake to estrogen).

“And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage.” 8

THE BOYS ARE NOT ALL RIGHT


MICHAEL IAN BLACK

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And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women. To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not. We will probably never understand why any one young man decides to end the lives of others. But we can see at least one pattern and that pattern is glaringly obvious. It’s boys.

I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t. Because I was a boy once, too. There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity. I don’t know how we open ourselves to the rich complexity of our manhood. I think we would benefit from the same conversations girls and women have been having for these past 50 years. I would like men to use feminism as an inspiration, in the same way that feminists used the civil rights movement as theirs. I’m not advocating a quick fix. There isn’t one. But we have to start the conversation. Boys are broken, and I want to help.

“I think we would benefit from the same conversations girls and women have been having for these past 50 years.” MICHAEL IAN BLACK

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A New Model of Masculinity Letters to the Editor

A version of this article appears in print on March 3, 2018, on Page SR8 of the New York Times with the headline: “A New Model of Masculinity.”

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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ABIGAIL ROSE SOLOMON New York, NY To the Editor Re “The Boys Are Not All Right,” by Michael Ian Black (OpEd, Feb. 22), which links violence by boys and men to our concepts of masculinity: Mr. Black asks how we can help boys. Humans are not born empathetic. Empathy is taught. Parents, caretakers, teachers and coaches must teach boys empathy by showing them affection, compassion and understanding. By responding to their needs. By giving them a safe place to express emotions and an ear to discuss them. By nurturing them. When someone tells my 5-year-old son, “Boys don’t cry,” he answers, “That’s not true.” Boys cry as much as girls until they’re scolded or insulted when they do. When our son cries, we let him. When he hurts himself, we comfort him. When he’s angry, we try to understand what’s bothering him. The result? His teachers tell us how kind, gentle and thoughtful he is to other children. He is still a confident, outgoing, pirate-loving boy. But we have raised him without false, demeaning, sexist views about what it means to be male or female. To us, it isn’t about gender. It’s about love.

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RON HELLENDALL Chapel Hill, NC To the Editor I play pool with a friend of mine three to four times a month. Pool is just the excuse — the vehicle to get together to understand what’s going on in each other’s lives. Implicit in those conversations is the expression of understanding of manhood. It’s all indirect, often subtle, but it’s unquestionably there. Women just need to listen to men converse without assumptions. We’ll rarely use such terms as mindfulness, journey, vulnerability etc. They simply do not suit our gender. But we cover these topics all the time. Women and men discuss identity differently. And that’s O.K. Really. But the last thing men want to do is talk about such stuff directly. But it’s being discussed all the time. All the time.

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“Humans are not born empathetic. Empathy is taught.” ABIGAIL ROSE SOLOMON

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BILL YOUMANS New York, NY To the Editor Michael Ian Black raises a compelling question about American masculinity. In America, the popular conception of manhood has always come primarily from movies. The male protagonists of the silver screen, from John Wayne to Sean Connery to Harrison Ford to George Clooney to Denzel Washington, have defined our ideal of what a man should be. In movies, men’s cleaned-up, choreographed, heroic representations of gunfire and fistfights have presented for us romanticized, highly unrealistic notions of what violence is all about. We have accordingly developed a warped sense of how to handle aggression. The hero (we tend to see ourselves as the hero in the movies of our lives) says, “Bring it on,” and starts firing automatic weapons. Unlike, say, Shakespearean protagonists, he has no serious character flaws, conflicted feelings, fears, guilt or regrets. He always knows what is right and acts on it unfailingly. He has, in short, no vulnerability. Superheroes, from Superman to the Black Panther, are likewise fearless, intrepid and invulnerable. This ideal hardly squares with our inner life as women. Obviously movies are not to blame for the mental illness that sometimes causes gun violence. But they play an underrated part in the roles we assign to gender identity.

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ALAN FRANK New York, NY To the Editor By continuing to look at gender, and specifically at boys, through a heteronormative lens, we’re solidifying a binary: men as emotionally repressed, testosterone-driven predators, and women as emotionally available caregivers and targets of men’s rage. Tragically, we’re obliterating men who fall outside this narrow template of masculinity. This encourages a culture that does not recognize men as complex individualized selves. No less than women, men should not be collapsed into a rigidly stereotyped gender identity. In our current American culture, where women, in many areas of their lives, incorporate masculine threads and men, feminine ones, many men today actually live multigendered lives. Isn’t it time to look at men — and gender — more expansively? Only then can we begin to recognize men not only as producers and predators but as the guardians in young boys’ lives — fathers, uncles, teachers, coaches — who encourage these malleable selves to embrace their own and others’ uniqueness.

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“Isn’t it time to look at men — and gender — more expansively?” ALAN FRANK

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JAMES TACKACH Bristol, RI

To the Editor Michael Ian Black is correct when he asserts that “America’s boys are broken.” One way to begin to fix them is through books. In this digital age, too few American boys take the time to read great literary texts. That is sad because studies have shown that engagement with great literature builds empathy and fosters healthy self-reflection. We need to encourage boys to put down their phones and pick up good books that deal with the issues that growing boys face. Begin with Mark Twain’s great classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the story of an abused teenage boy who runs away and bonds with a kind runaway slave. Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories feature a boy who grows into manhood and experiences the horrors of war. To regain his emotional balance after the war, Nick reconnects with the natural world that he loved as a boy. He regains control of his life with a fishing rod, not a gun, in his hands. James Baldwin’s fine short story “Sonny’s Blues” is narrated by an older brother who has survived the hazards of ghetto life but whose younger brother Sonny has surrendered to drugs. But after a prison term, Sonny gets high by stroking the keys of a piano. Please send your boys to the libraries.

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GRIFFITH R. DYE Oberlin, OH To the Editor Michael Ian Black points out the difficulties boys have in finding a reasonable model for manhood among the conflicting expectations in our society. For many of us our earliest examples of how men should behave involved physical power and violence. As a boy I wanted the opportunity to demonstrate physical courage, which I equated with manhood. But I missed the many opportunities I had to exercise moral courage. My heroes today are children, both boys and girls, who take unpopular stands against injustice and cruelty. They might teach adult leaders about real courage: compassion, honesty, restraint and truthfulness.

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“One way to begin to fix them is through books.” JAMES TACKACH

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LINDA GILMAN Jersey City, NJ To the Editor After reading “The Boys Are Not All Right,” I was struck by the similarities between gun violence and the sexual misconduct /harassment cases that have flooded the media. As Michael Ian Black states, “manhood is measured in strength” and “manliness is about having power over others.” Some men turn to guns as an expression of rage, violence or revenge, while other men, perhaps with more fame, money and recognition, use their power to express themselves through sexual acts involving domination and control. Whether it be with a gun or sex organ, the harm that these groups of men and boys are inflicting on society needs to be understood.

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MARIE J. BOTTICELLI New York, NY To the Editor This was a great article about the complexities of growing to a different manhood. The boys are not all right, but then a large portion of our business, social and personal lives are controlled by men who still promote this “suffocating, outdated model of masculinity.� We do have some different models of masculinity, such as Barack Obama, John Lewis, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, many religious leaders and more. They are mocked and belittled by the macho culture of our society. Changing this macho culture is the solution for our boys as well as our girls.

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“I was struck by the similarities between gun violence and the sexual misconduct/harassment . . .” LINDA GILMAN

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GEORGE HEYMONT San Fransisco, CA To the Editor Michael Ian Black writes: “There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity. I don’t know how we open ourselves to the rich complexity of our manhood.” There’s a very simple answer. Make sure boys grow up with some gay male friends in their life. That would go a long way to help them understand that empathy, vulnerability and sensitivity are not to be feared. They might also benefit from better modeling on how to treat and get along with women.

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CLAY STOCKTON Oakland, CA To the Editor Michael Ian Black is right, technically, when he says there’s no movement for men that’s “commensurate” with feminism. But if he’s implying that there’s no men’s movement, period, he’s wrong. I know because I’m one of the thousands of men in it. Every week, I meet with about a dozen other men in the poorly ventilated library of a church, on a night when A.A. isn’t using it. Some of us are fathers, some not; some are straight, some not; some were born into male bodies, some not. All we have in common is that we’re men and we’re trying to embody a mature masculinity that welcomes the whole male experience — shame and sadness, anger and desire, tenderness and joy. I think of us as trying to, as W. H. Auden wrote, “give back to the son the mother’s richness of feeling.” It’s hard, slow work. But men are out there doing it. Get on the internet and you’ll find them.

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“But if he’s implying that there’s no men’s movement, period, he’s wrong.” CLAY STOCKTON

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Cover — photo by Morozov Page 10 — photo by Mario Tama Page 29 — photo by Zinkevych

COLOPHON This book was designed by Jack Frischer for Typography I Spring 2017, at Washington University in St. Louis in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. The text “The Boys Are Not All Right” was originally published from the New York Times in February 2018 by Michael Ian Black. The text “A New Model of Masculinity is origianlly published from the New York Times in March 2018. All uncaptioned images are sourced from pexels.com. The body text is typeset in Baskerville MT 10 pt with 13 pt leading. The titling and pull quotes are typeset in Franklin Gothic. The book is printed with Mohawk Fine Papers i-Tone Neon White Paper 100lb Text.

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Masculinity: An Upside Down Definition  

The book intends to highlight the current definition of masculinity as a catalyst for mental health issues in young boys of America. The boo...

Masculinity: An Upside Down Definition  

The book intends to highlight the current definition of masculinity as a catalyst for mental health issues in young boys of America. The boo...

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