How the Other Half Lives

By David Michael Newstead.

This was originally posted on Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Learn More.

About six years ago, it dawned on me that my female friends were dealing with a daily set of challenges in public that I just don’t face. And the stark contrast to my own life is surreal to me, because both experiences are considered the norm.

For instance, when I walk down the street I think about my day or random things I have to do. I might stare down at my shoes or look at the sky. I could be happy. I could be sad. But safety just doesn’t cross my mind, day or night. It just isn’t a concern.

Women, on the other hand, often seem to plot out specific streets to take at certain times with an exit strategy and countermeasures for unwanted attention or a worst case scenario. That is to say, our routines couldn’t be any more different.

Essentially, women have to live as if the entire city is overrun with zombies and typically men do not. That’s how I started to think about it anyway. And I don’t say that to be funny exactly, but to point out that if a person felt at-risk most of the time, that’s much worse than any horror movie.

In public, I get to have peace of mind. In fact, I have so much peace of mind when I move from place to place that I take it for granted: on public transit, on sidewalks, in bars, restaurants, side streets, the gym, in any store, at any hour. For women, even if many of them arrive safely, that very real concern for their well-being would hang over them in ways that are shocking when you really think about it. Recently, I heard a friend openly worry whether the scarf she was wearing could be used against her, which means she felt any mundane decision could endanger her safety.

And, in fact, research supports her concern. According to the 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, a majority of women (65%) report having experienced sexual or gender-based harassment in public, along with 25% of men who mostly identified as LGBTQ.

The more I heard about things like this, the more I wondered what if anything I could do to help and how men in general could be an ally on this issue. Obviously, do no harm is a good place to start. But the solution needs to be about more than just not harassing women in public. Being an ally extends to your own personal conduct as well as being aware of what’s going on around you. Ideally, your support will never be necessary, but it could make a critical difference. Even if it’s just for their peace of mind.

Review: The Mask You Live In

By David Michael Newstead.

I’ve wanted to see this documentary for a while now. And last week, I finally got the chance. After watching it though, I felt like I needed to think about the material for a few days. The Mask You Live In touches on a wide variety of issues surrounding masculinity in America. In my view, this ends up being the film’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness since it covers so much territory. But that overview format also means the audience can identify with a specific issue that might resonate the most. These include insights on sports culture, socialization, education, violence against women, hook-up culture, suicide, mass shootings, and more. For me, some observations were applicable to my own life, while many others were not. However, that’s not a criticism so much as it’s a recognition of the vast differences that are possible within American masculinity.

For example, one segment focused on a kind of round table discussion by prison inmates who were all violent offenders, serving life sentences. Their perspectives on how they were raised, what manhood means to them, and how a man solves problems were incredibly interesting, because they embodied where negative forms of masculinity can lead. Related to that, Jackson Katz explained how mass shooters and sex offenders are essentially being manufactured and that they aren’t aliens that grow up separately from the rest of American culture.

And it’s that same culture that’s under scrutiny throughout the film. The basic takeaway being that a hyper-aggressive, emotionally atrophied form of manhood is the root of many of these problems or at least a major contributing factor. One way the film underlines this is by pointing to the significant jump in boys’ rates of suicide as they enter adolescence, which occur at five times the rate of girls’ suicides and are the third leading cause of death among boys.

But far from just discussing the extent of the problem, The Mask You Live In also advocates for a better kind of manhood and shows how we might get there. But for me to really reflect on that, I want to watch the film a second time.

Watch The Mask You Live In

#MasculinitySoFragile Goes Viral

By David Michael Newstead.

In September 2015, Twitter user @anthoknees popularized the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile, causing it to go viral. Recently, I spoke with @anthoknees regarding that experience and his views on manhood. My conversation with the activist and community organizer is below.

@DavidMNewstead: So, you were the person who caused it to go viral. What were you tweeting about at the time and why did it #MasculinitySoFragile fit into that?

@anthoknees: The original thread shows the progression pretty well. Violent descriptions of murder due to misogyny.

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@DavidMNewstead: What were some of the responses to that?

@anthoknees: The beauty of Twitter is that it’s an alternative start or continuation of a conversation. So, it helped to spread the topic of toxic masculinity out of just Black feminist Twitter and off-line conversations into the public eye through media coverage. Black women have been discussing and theorizing much of what I wrote, yet they’re often the most ignored and discredited. In the good articles, the woman (@feministajones) whose post inspired this and cited me as well.

@DavidMNewstead: So, what was the backlash like?

@anthoknees: Death wishes, as internet trolls are known for. Confusion around the message, too. Many people thought it was created by “bitter feminists” and took it as an assault on their manhood, rather than recognizing the violence that women and femme-identified people deal with on daily basis just because of their gender expression and presentation. The last thing wasn’t too bad but was notable. The message got lost. Some would ask me, “what about male rape victims,” not realizing that fragile masculinity is actually a primary reason people don’t believe male rape survivors and a primary reason that men are afraid to report sexual assault.

@DavidMNewstead: Do you think the back and forth over the hashtag has helped to dispel the confusion or is it just a big internet shouting match now?

@anthoknees: Well, the back and forth calmed down after the first week. But given the amount of articles written on it, the confusion seems to have died down. But it’s a hashtag, and so people will use it however they want. Ultimately, “man-sized” tissues are a part of the conversation, but as someone who popularized the hashtag, my focus was less on the absurdity of little examples and more focused on the very real threat of toxic masculinity.

@DavidMNewstead: Is this the normal focus of your activism or what issues to you work on?

@anthoknees: I work on dismantling interlocking systems of oppression, including heteropatriarchy, so it definitely falls in line with my activism. I’m on the streets and online, with both direct action and consciousness raising. White supremacy isn’t the only system of oppression that must be targeted, which is why I also discuss misogyny, misogynoir, transmisogyny, and sexism.

@DavidMNewstead: In your view, can you describe examples of positive masculinity and specifically forms of positive masculinity that can successfully counter the effects of toxic masculinity around the world?

@anthoknees: I see positive masculinity as healthy masculinity. Healthy masculinity is masculinity that is not tethered to certain actions, behaviors, or dispositions. Healthy masculinity is instead negotiated and requires an awareness that the gender is a social construct. A man who performs healthy masculinity understands that physical strength, sexual orientation, or other similar characteristics have no bearing on what is or is not “masculine.”

As I wrote, toxic masculinity is oppressive and sometimes violent, especially in response to a perceived challenge to a person’s masculinity. As such, a practical example of this healthy masculinity can be observed in the response. If a man approaches a woman to ask for her number and she declines, he respectfully accepts her “no” instead of having an expectation that she owes him anything.

We live in a highly gendered world, and so the very notion of masculinity or femininity is hard to shake or destroy. The current social order makes it even more important to combat global toxic masculinity. And as social creatures, our masculinity is not just for ourselves, but a performance for others. So healthy masculinity also means that we stop the policing gender. This looks like accepting people for who they are, respecting their pronouns, and not defining their gender for them. Gender nonconforming and transgender people are often physically and verbally attacked because we police the gender of others instead of focusing on ourselves.

Healthy masculinity also means not policing men who appear more “effeminate.” Calling a femme CIS gender man a homophobic, transphobic or sexist epithet is a symptom of toxic masculinity. This symptom amplifies when someone who was designated male or female at birth identifies as transgender. So, for me, eliminating toxic masculinity and growing healthy masculinity looks like a process of examining our own learned biases and prejudices. Healthy masculinity allows us, as folks who identify as masculine regardless of gender, to display vulnerability and affection in ways that do not fit the typical hegemonic mold of masculinity. Healthy masculinity increases interpersonal trust and reduces the likelihood of violence. Healthy masculinity allows us the freedom to help society function better, as opposed to the inequality and violence that toxic masculinity creates.

Read Part One

Read Part Three

A Conversation with Paul Elam

By David Michael Newstead.

Paul Elam is a controversial figure often cited for his work as a men’s rights activist and for his outspoken opposition to feminism. And because that opposition is fairly widespread around the world, I wanted to try to understand that sentiment and determine what, if any, common ground exists. Late last year, I reached out to Mr. Elam to discuss these issues. Highlights from our conversation are below. Questions from readers are included. Our discussion is wide ranging and Mr. Elam’s views are his own.

David Newstead: As far your website and your work, what would you say is your central theory?

Paul Elam: I really think when all is said is done, the men’s rights movement is the first actual push for an end to gender roles by considering gynocentrism. If you look at the feminist equation on the other side of the fence from us, you see patriarchy theory. You see things like the Duluth model and all this sort of analysis of sexual politics about men having power and women not having power. On the other side of the fence, there’s a concept called gynocentrism. Our theory is that power is a very, very difficult thing to pinpoint, especially in human relationships. There was an incident just the other day in India where a man was allegedly attacking a woman, was allegedly raping her. And the villagers drug him out into the street and hacked off his genitals and threw him in a river. Now, I would argue that it wasn’t him that had the power in that situation. And I think there’s a lot of other anecdotal stuff that points to women having great power: the power of accusation, the power of men working for them and producing and taking care of them. Which has been a part of the traditional gender roles for ages and ages. Feminists tend to interpret that more as men controlling women and holding them as chattel. But as we evaluate history on this side of the fence, it looks more like the first seat in a lifeboat and a lot of other protections that were never afforded men. So, if men truly have all the power, why are we the ones doing all the dying?

Question from a Reader: What’s the biggest misconception that you encounter? What’s being misunderstood about your message?

Paul Elam: Oh my god, everything. I’m going to put on my tinfoil hat for you for a moment. I think a lot of that has to do with feminist influence in the mainstream media. For instance, I’ll give you an example. At the first International Conference on Men’s Issues, which we had in St. Clair Shores, Michigan – the first three speakers were female. The first speaker was the first black female senator in North America. The second woman that spoke at our conference was the woman who founded the women’s shelter movement in Chiswick, England in 1971. And the third speaker was Dr. Tara Palmatier, medical psychologist that works with men that have been in abusive relationships. We’re a very, very diverse group. Probably, we feed into that misconception. I know that I’m a reluctant figurehead in this thing and here I am – I’m a white, middle-aged guy. And I think people sort of read into that that the whole movement is that way. But the whole movement is not that way. We’re very diverse. I think we are more diverse in essence than feminism is.

The second most common misconception is that we hate women, which is just bullshit. Honest critique of how we socialize men and women in this culture isn’t hate. Criticizing feminists is not the same thing as criticizing women and that is often conflated. Not all feminists are women and we criticize male feminists too. But turning this into a sort of gender war is not something that I think is on our shoulders, I think it’s on society’s. Going back to gynocentrism. The moment I say that “wait a minute, you know, it can’t be possible that men have all the power if they’re doing all the dying.” Somebody will interpret that as a threat to women. And that’s human instant. That’s human nature. That’s not a problem in women any more than it is in men. It’s just human nature to protect women. And when we point to that fact that as a species we would not have survived if we had not put women’s lives first ahead of men, people get hostile about it. So, there is a lot of denial, a lot of socialization, and a lot of socio-biology to sort of dig through before we get to the core of the truth. And I think there’s a lot of social resistance to doing that.

David Newstead: When you were growing up, what was your first encounter with or introduction to feminists or feminism?

Paul Elam: Oh, wow. You’re going to make me give away my age. It was probably watching All in the Family. And you know, I was from a family that enjoyed intellectual stimulation, so we discussed politics and world issues from the time I was a very young guy. And back then, we called it women’s liberation. It came up, but it wasn’t much of an intense subject at the time. I think feminist activism was centered more in larger cities and I was in rural areas. So, I didn’t pick up on it that much. My first experience noticing gender discrimination, I remember. It was when I was thirteen. I was reading a newspaper and just investigating what was in there and went into the classified section for the employment section. And they actually had them divided by sex. And I noticed, even at thirteen years old, that all the crappy paying jobs were for women. And I remember thinking at that moment, that’s wrong. So, that was my first personal exposure to any kind of sexual bias in the world.

But of course, at that time, I also hadn’t noticed that my father had already been in two wars at that point and had his body destroyed. He caught white phosphorous in Korea. He caught a mortar round in Korea, was shot in Vietnam as an adviser there. But I think because of the gynocentric nature of human beings, I didn’t notice all those penalties he paid and all those things that happened to him. I didn’t look at that as unfair. But the moment I saw at thirteen years old that they were obviously discriminating in employment against women, my first instinct was protection. I just find that, for me, is an interesting story – that I could overlook my own father having his body destroyed. He was a gunnery sergeant, lost most of his hearing from it. And I looked at that as sort of normal and I became upset because a woman couldn’t get a job.

David Newstead: I mean, do you feel like feminism and gynocentricism and men’s rights are necessarily opposed? Because they all involve gender discussions and issues of fairness based on what you’re saying, so it seems like there would be some overlap and common ground in some area for people to get along. But it doesn’t work out that way.

Paul Elam: I know there are people, lots of them, that identify as feminists and truly believe in equality. And truly only want equality. I know that’s out there. But when I look at the forms of feminism that matter – the governance. When we have laws that are horrifically biased like VAWA. When we’re running on the Duluth model of domestic violence that really only recognizes female victims and male perpetrators. When our campus rules now consist of these honor courts where young men on college campuses are sitting ducks, taken through what amount to star chambers when they’re accused of sexual misconduct. That’s the feminism in action. Christina Hoff Sommers identifies as a feminist and she’s a great individual that I believe is a real equity feminist. But where we practice our governance, where we develop policy, and what we do in media and in everywhere I can see feminism’s fingerprints what I see is seeking privilege and power for women at the expense of men. And I think that’s our sort of bottleneck or our stopping point. When feminists hear that they say “ok, I’m not listening to this guy, he’s crazy.” And on my side of the fence, when I hear somebody say that I’m crazy for saying that I have to believe that they’re just not willing to look at reality.

David Newstead: Is it necessarily a zero-sum game though?

Paul Elam: I think it is for now. It’s not that I would want it to be. I would love something other than what we have at the moment. The fact of the matter is that we’re a polarized society about a lot of things. Does it have to be a zero-sum game? No. But I think in order for us to make progress toward it not being a zero-sum game, we’re going to have to recognize that we have explored and looked at the mistreatment, the discrimination against women openly and very assertively for fifty years in this culture. And we have shut down nearly every discussion on looking at disadvantages faced by men. So, from my side of the fence, I say yeah it shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. So, why don’t you guys pick up a little bit more intellectual integrity and come to the table with some real discussion about men’s issues too. If that will happen anywhere, I’ll talk to any feminist in the world on that level and try to share experience with them and try to work with them.

But if I come to the table and the precondition is that I have to accept that women are the one and only oppressed class of human beings that men have systemically for all of human history disadvantaged women for their own benefit when I look at the face of statistics on suicide, depression, alcoholism, and what happens in family courts. And I have to accept what I think is an extremely bizarre version of reality just to sit down and talk to these people, my morality won’t let me do that. Nor will my common sense.

David Newstead: In America, it seems like we’re used to thinking in very binary terms. So, there’s black and white. There’s women and men, Republicans and Democrats, etc. And you know with transgender issues and with increased diversity on all fronts, it gets a little more complicated than just binary thinking.

Paul Elam: It does. I have a recent example of that. I’ve been speaking to a clinical social worker who’s a transgender male. I’ll be interviewing him and I’ve had a couple really good discussions with him. There’s a great area that you brought up. This man now tours around a bit and lectures and talks about his experience transitioning from being a women to being a man. And one of the things that he shared with me that was fascinating was that he said the most common question that he got at the end of his lectures was “how does it feel now to have white male privilege?” And his answer is “how on Earth could I know?” And he has told the audiences that he has lost more than he has gained. He pointed out that as a woman that it was routine in his life as a woman that someone would regularly be asking him how he was doing and talking to him about the emotional aspect of his life. And when he went through the process and presented to the world as a man, that stopped completely and totally. He said he felt like he stepped into an alien world where nobody ever cared about how he was doing. We’ve had a transgender male write for my site before about being treated like a potential threat and about the experience of becoming male being so radically different than what they had ever imagined. And I think that’s a great discussion to have.

David Newstead: One thing I wanted to ask about is the women featured on your site or just the seemingly large number of women who are hostile to feminism. And I know it’s hard to generalize so many viewpoints, but can you describe that phenomenon a little?

Paul Elam: In terms of our female writers, most of them are there, because they have sons. I can tell you that much. I also need to say that Karen Straughan is one of the popular men’s rights activists out there. And she is not in any official capacity affiliated with my site. She does her own thing and she does it quite brilliantly. But she has said repeatedly that she has sons and she is worried about what’s in their future. And she does not think that the current paradigm pretends well for her children. The same thing with Janet Bloomfield who writes at judgybitch.com. She’s also very involved in our work. Suzanne McCarley. Most all these women have male children and they’re concerned about them. And they don’t believe that the social engineering of their sons’ masculinity into something less than manhood is the answer and they’re concerned that that’s exactly what feminists want.

David Newstead: How about this as a question, do you have any feminist friends?

Paul Elam: Huh! That’s a good question. The answer is no.

David Newstead: Alright. Well, I tried.

Paul Elam: To be honest, I don’t. I would be open to that. But my circles again are about men’s activism. There’s not a lot of feminists in there. My partner of fourteen years is female and she’s not a feminist. So, I have limited exposure. But I’m sure out there at some point like if I ever got to meet people like Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia, we’d become friends. Or at least be friendly with each other. But it’s only because that they’re doing the same critique of feminist ideology that I am. We could share that in common. I would find it very hard to be friends with somebody who thinks that I’m a member of an oppressor class.

Question from a Reader: Are you familiar with Michael Kimmel and his theory of American masculinity’s sense of Aggrieved Entitlement?

Paul Elam: Yes, I am. Michael Kimmel, I think, is a brilliant guy. I really do. I mean, I give him credit. He’s very, very smart. I also happen to think he’s very, very disingenuous, which is not a good combination.

David Newstead: That’s an interesting collection of compliments and not compliments. Unpack that for me, please.

Paul Elam: What I’m saying is, he’s a brilliant guy. He’s a great communicator. He is very, very refined in his skills with rhetoric. And at the same time, he has what I perceive to be a very twisted and distorted agenda that he’s using those skills to further, which is basically misandry and more gynocentrism. The problem is, Kimmel is considered a real authority and he just recently got $300,000 of grant money to start a men’s studies department at Stony Brook where he teaches. And for his masculinity department, he piles his board with Jane Fonda and Carol Gilligan and a ton of other radical feminist ideologists. It isn’t men’s studies, it’s feminism disguised as men’s studies. Then, let’s look at that phrase ‘aggrieved entitlement’ and the loss of status. I work with men all the time. I mean, one of the biggest heartbreaks of my work is the people I have to tell all the time that there’s nothing I can do for you. And they’re in the worst of situations. And they aren’t people that have aggrieved entitlement. They’re people who are being ripped apart and destroyed and bordering on suicidal. And to me, Michael Kimmel reshaping that narrative to become something like aggrieved entitlement is absolutely sociopathic. It is immoral. And it is just disgusting, just disgusting as a human being. That you can look at a four-to-one rate of suicide and say that “there must be a lot of guys out there that have aggrieved entitlement then, because they’re killing themselves over it.” I mean, what kind of person thinks this way?

David Newstead: A kind of a closing question. So, independent of disagreements with feminism, can you say to me what the men’s rights movement is?

Paul Elam: It is finally a reaction to gynocentrism. And again, we have to explain a little bit more. Gynocentrism was necessary for the human species to survive. But once something is not necessary, it can become a liability. It’s sort of like when we look at the abuse and trauma that children survive in abusive families and the defense mechanisms that they develop in order to survive in those families, which they absolutely need. The same thing with gynocentrism, we needed to protect women at all costs at one point. And we’re still protecting women at all costs, even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it isn’t fair. Even when it destroys children. Even when it destroys families. We have systems setup in our family courts, in our schools. Everywhere you go in our system of governance is gynocentric and it is all designed to protect women, which is at least ostensibly a noble idea. But when you start looking at the reality of it, what we’re seeing is a human instinct run amuck in a time that it’s lost its value. And that is what the men’s movement is. We’re going to insist on a discussion about that.

Paul Elam: Let me ask you this just in general terms. I went to your site and I read through some of it. You obviously do have an interest in gender politics. What got you motivated you in that direction?

David Newstead: You know, it took a while. I remember when I was younger and being aware that some men hurt women and that that was bad. And when I was very young, I understood that hurting other people is bad. And you know, I still think that, obviously. But sort of the idea of trying to figure out what does positive masculinity and positive manhood mean? And that’s a thing that I deal with. And part of it is for personal reasons, because my father passed away when I was a kid. So anything about being a guy, I kind of had to figure out on my own. So, a lot of the writing is just an outgrowth of that – of me figuring something out.

Paul Elam: Man, what a long journey that one is. As someone who’s walked that road for a while and tried to figure out those questions, my conclusion at this point is that there’s no such thing. And I’m not saying that a lot of men don’t share characteristics. The thing that got me is somebody asked me about ten years ago, they said “take a look at any positive characteristic and tell me that’s something you think should be in women and not men or in men and not women.” So, the challenge for me is how am I a decent human being? Not what sort of ideal of manhood do I need to pursue in order to feel adequate as a man, but what are my standards? How do I allow myself to be treated? How do I treat others? Do I steal? Do I not steal? All the basic moral questions of life. And I don’t find for men or women that they’re very different. I don’t trust a man who lies to me and I don’t trust a woman who lies to me. I’m not trying to impart psycho-babble wisdom to you here, I just identified a lot with that journey that you’re talking about.

David Newstead: No, I’m glad to hear that. And I appreciate outside perspective. And sometimes in life, you know as much as I don’t like to hear this depending on the question, sometimes there is no answer.

D.C. Protests Against ‘Legalize Rape’ Event

By David Michael Newstead.

60 activists in Washington D.C. gathered in protest of pro-rape advocate Daryush Valizade who had planned to host an event in Dupont Circle on Saturday. Valizade ultimately cancelled a number of meetups around the world, calling for the legalization of rape on private property. And while his efforts have sparked international outrage, the Dupont Circle event is particularly notable since Valizade resides in the D.C. area.

Suffragette Review

By David Michael Newstead.

Suffragette is excellent on a granular-level from the acting to its film locations, period clothing, and cinematography. Against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement, we see a snapshot of Britain a century ago – a country of impoverished slums, rigid class distinctions, and strong Victorian sensibilities.

The activists that challenged those norms go on to experience all the hardship that British society at the time can inflict. This comes in the form of police beatings, imprisonment, shaming, force feedings, and early attempts at government surveillance.

Some years ago, in fact, I recall seeing an old political cartoon from that era criticizing the force feeding of suffragettes on hunger strike. But knowing that that happened in a general sort of way is much different than watching it and Suffragette certainly doesn’t sugarcoat the past. Throughout the film, the drudgery, poverty, and violence of 1912 is as visceral as the chauvinism.

The film’s real accomplishment though is that it shows itself to be more than just a history lesson. After all, Saudi women only recently got the right to vote in August of this year.

suffragettes2

Under the Skin

By David Michael Newstead. 

I don’t remember this coming out, but I thought Under the Skin was a very interesting movie. The film is a dark look at gender and humanity. Through contemporary science fiction, we can see different aspects of our society, but from a cold, outside perspective. The result is jarring.

Watch Under the Skin