Archive | October, 2011

“Men will be… what?”

25 Oct

Who's the weaker sex now, man?

Real men are becoming an endangered species. We’re not quite up there with spotted owls and white-headed woodpeckers yet, but we’re rapidly closing in.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m an alarmist? And besides, what the hell is a “real man” anyway?

Let me tackle the reasons why I’m pushing the gender panic button.

For the first time in history, women hold the majority of jobs in the U.S., still the world’s largest economy (and the source of endlessly fascinating statistics like this), Of the 15 occupations likely to grow the most over the next decade, women dominate 13 of them. We still rock as engineers and…wait for it… janitors. Fact is, while it may have escaped your notice (if you’re a man, odds are it has), we’re in something called the 21st century now. If you live in a relatively developed country, then you’re living in an essentially post-industrial society, dominated by a post-industrial economy. “Post” – in addition to being a cereal brand, this means “over and done with;” kaput; sayonara. Size and strength hardly matter in the new economy. Intelligence (especially social intelligence), communications skills, the ability to shut the hell up, sit still, and focus, do. And none of these are what we might call typical manly virtues (if you’d like to argue the point re. sitting still and focusing, I’ll put you in touch with my friend who teaches 5th grade – she has 25 kids in her class, 18 of them boys; she doesn’t teach them, she herds them).

Since 2000, the U.S. has lost almost six million manufacturing jobs, representing more than a third of the manufacturing workforce, and the vast majority of those lost jobs were held by men. Want a better job? Or at least a new job? Then you’d better have at least a BA, or you’re pretty much screwed. And these days fewer and fewer men are getting university educations (fully 60% of the Masters degrees awarded last year went to women).

David Gergen, CNN pundit and the director of something called the Center for Public Leadership, recently pointed out that “women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially matched with the requirements of the day.” And men, by contrast, seem to be walking out through the same door, their pockets turned inside-out, wondering what the hell hit them.

Hanna Rosin, in an Atlantic article titled “The End of Men,” warns, “whether boys have changed or not, we are well past the time to start trying some experiments. It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future.” Hmmm….

Both our political and popular cultures seem to be reflecting the erosion of old school male supremacy, and with it, any clear sense of what is required these days to function as a reasonable, honorable, happily contributing man.

On the one hand we have the Tea Party, full of angry white guys who aren’t gonna take it anymore. Behind the bluster and anger lie, of course, nothing less than confusion, anxiety, and plain old-fashioned fear – of virtually everything, it seems, but fear of the future in particular.

On the other we have Hollywood cranking out films (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Greenberg) and TV series (Last Man Standing, Man Up!), featuring hopelessly indecisive, weak-kneed male caricatures, none of them with the vaguest idea of what it means to be “a real man.”

Men seem to even be losing it when it comes to sex. Katie Rophie, in her book The Naked and the Conflicted, notes that American male novelists have virtually given up using sex as a means for their (male) characters to assert their essential manliness. Why? Because these characters apparently have no clue how to be manly. “The current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex,” according to Rophie.

So in the end, what is a real man? Or at least, what are some of the general requirements for Real Manhood these days?

I’ve written an entire book on the subject (shameless self-promotion alert: it’s coming out soon, you can read about it here:, so I won’t repeat myself in detail. But here are a few tidbits.

First, a real man needs to be conscious, conscious in the sense of being aware of what’s going on, within him and without him, to quote the late, lamented George Harrison. A real man needs to practice daily courage, the kind of courage that allows him to face all those small, daily concerns that immobilize so many men. Throw in a measure of self- love (that’s right, I’m serious), a dollop of (positive)passion, some honesty, a bit of compassion, the ability to focus on things that trigger happiness, a commitment to taking action (as opposed to endlessly hemming and hawing), a willingness to embrace the notion of creativity, the guts to opt for adventure when it presents itself (hey, Bilbo Baggins did it), wrap it all up with some style, et voila – you’ve got the makings of a real man.

Seriously, I’ve come to the conclusion we should be teaching this stuff in school (I know my 5th grade teacher pal is jumping up and down, yelling yes, yes!). We don’t know what we don’t know, and so many boys are growing up these days bereft of any decent male guidance or role models. I can see a series of classes that start in 1st grade, all designed to give boys and young men the tools they need to move healthily and happily through life.

Beats metal shop.

Dare to be you!

23 Oct

The Oregon Kid, aka John Gottberg Anderson (Barba Gonzalez Photography)

The problem with many men is they grow up.

“Grow up” in the sense they have somehow learned over the years that it’s not OK to let their hair down; that it’s verbotten to play, that it’s unseemly to let that inner little boy out to romp around, rip the knees of his jeans, and generally whoop it up.

The result is a world full of men who take themselves far too seriously (why does an image of Mitt Romney keep popping into my head?). Ironically, I suspect this usually is because they lack self-confidence, rather than suffer from too much of it. Having the courage to be you, coupled with an overwhelming conviction that the main reason we’re all here, the original Prime Directive, is to be happy, is a state of being worth striving for.

Which brings me to the photo above. I happen to know this guy. I went to South Eugene High School with him. If John Gottberg Anderson ran for President, I’d vote for him.

As long as he campaigned dressed like this.

Pissing off a woman isn’t always a bad thing…

22 Oct

Jay Leno may or may not have manned up, but some of his audience members certainly have...

American popular culture isn’t exactly brimming with examples of men behaving well. Or at least, men behaving as honorably and sensibly as possible (I almost wrote, under the circumstances here, but I agree with George Bernard Shaw, there are no “circumstances,” we simply create situations, then deal with them).

Apparently (I have this second hand from an author pal of mine — I don’t watch The Tonight Show) Jay Leno recently wandered into the audience, looking for women willing to reveal their most embarrassing first date. He zeroed in on a lady who raised her hand and told the following tale.

She’d been invited to go skiing with a guy in the mountains outside Salt Lake City (no, as far as I know this wasn’t Mitt Romney‘s former girlfriend), just a day trip you understand, this was, after all, a first date. They had a good day’s skiing, had a nice time generally, and were driving down off the hill late that afternoon when the woman realized she had to pee. She alerted her companion, who urged her to hang on, as they were driving down a relatively narrow, winding mountain road with enormous amounts of snow on either side — no rest stops or roadside gas stations for miles.

She crossed her legs and held on for as long as she could. Finally, she told him it was either pull over, right now, or he’d have a serious upholstery problem on his hands. He did as she asked, and stood discretely outside the car, looking away from her, ready to warn any oncoming traffic there was a woman at work here, while she dropped her pants and leaned against the back bumper to relieve herself.

Mission thankfully accomplished, she began to pull up her pants. As she did so she started to stand, and quickly noted to her complete horror that her butt was stuck to the bumper. It had frozen to the metal like a Minnesota schoolboy’s tongue to a playground flagpole in January.

Mortified, she told her date what had happened, starting to laugh halfway through the description of her dilemma. They agreed that, while absurd, this could easily morph into a serious situation — clearly they had to free her, asap. To do that without leaving behind large patches of her skin attached to the arctic Detroit iron, they would need something warm. So ( I’m skipping some stuff here in the interests of brevity), she covered herself as best she could and shut her eyes, while her rescuer proceeded to… wait for it: pee on her butt and the bumper.

This worked like a hot knife through butter.

You may want to file this anecdote away for future reference; you really do never know.

Now this, it seems to me, was a truly manly thing for this guy to have done. Lesser men  might have shied away from such a delicate task. Less manly men might have tried using, I don’t know, some engine oil, or spit or something. But this guy knew that instant action was required, and proceeded to do that which needed to be done, with style and grace (and, apparently, remarkable accuracy).

By the way, the woman married him. I mean, what else could she do?


ABC-TV Mans Up October 18th

14 Oct

ABC sitcom Man Up! airs its first episode October 18th...

Its all over television these days. From Old Spice spots to Miller Lite commercials, screenwriters are having a go at their version of what men have become in the 21st century — it ain’t pretty, but (they’re hoping) it’s pretty funny.

Well, we shall see. Check out the inaugural episode of Man Up! on October 18th. Or simply read this review, from the Hollywood Reporter. Or better yet, hang on and buy a copy of my book in November!

Style Matters

12 Oct

The manly sky is falling...

For any of you who feel “style” has nothing to do with being a real man, I cordially invite you to visit the following alarming website: Men of WalMart.

I realized, after writing chapters on subjects like courage, truth, and action, that no book intending to help men become better humans could ignore the subject of style. The general lack thereof is a fundamental reason so many men fail (miserably) to measure up to minimum standards of civility and sophistication. Since so much of modern male culture seems to celebrate the LACK of style, I intend to strike a blow for being stylish.

What the hell does that mean? The answer’s coming soon, in MAN UP!

In the meantime, do check out the sobering (as well as hilarious) site above: consider it a visual cautionary tale…

Steve Jobs — a real man

6 Oct

Steve Jobs

He’s gone.

Franklin. Edison. Ford. Jobs. In a hundred years, kids will learn about this guy in school, young adults will do their best to emulate his daring and style, to match his achievements, and old folks will read or listen or watch his 2005 commencement address to the graduating class at Stanford University and think to themselves, yeah, this man was onto something, this man knew — and deeply felt — what he was talking about.

I am writing this on a now-old and somewhat battered MacBook Pro, while listening to a web “radio” station on iTunes. I have two other Macs and an iPod Touch.

But Jobs’ true impact on my life is and will remain his shared insights into the essential core of existence, of the need, as he put it, “to stare into the mirror every morning and ask yourself if what you’re about to embark upon this day is truly what you would choose to do if this were the last day or your life,” or something like that.

Sage advise from a real man.