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Masculinity: Stalled Males and the Emergence of Donald Trump

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Stalled Males and the Emergence of Donald Trump

Richard Hawley

Contents

Chapter 1

Untitled

About the Author

1

Masculinity

The emergence of Donald Trump and the passions that motivate his political base can be seen as the inevitable end-stage in the devolution of masculine fortunes in the developed world. This devolution has deep historical roots and is culturally well documented.

***

To understand what has happened, it might be helpful to begin with the transparent surface of the Trump emergence: the face he presents to the world, his language, his posture, his attitudes, his choices, and his observable behavior. Few would challenge the conclusion that all of these expressions have a strongly masculine cast. They might even be said to be stereotypically masculine—although, from the standpoint of feminist-leaning moderns, masculine in the ugliest, worst possible way.

***

What does this mean? Why have Trump’s slurs, boasts, and swaggering posture energized millions of followers to turn up at his rallies, shout with approval at his disparagement of rivals, brandish his signs, vote for him to lead them? When asked in surveys and election exit polls why they support Trump, the predominant response of his followers has been “he tells it like it is”—this despite the overwhelming conclusion of fact-checking agencies that he has lied, intentionally misrepresented, or spoken in error far more than any of his presidential rivals in either party. What “telling it like it is” means to those supporters is not “tells the truth” but rather “affirms what I feel.” And what those followers feel is something like [I am tired of feeling economically and socially diminished. I am tired of being regulated out of my deepest desires. I am tired of hand wringing concern for immigrants and minorities, without regard for their potential and actual crimes and the other problems they pose. And while I’m at it, I have had enough pious insistence that I embrace people whose sexual expression sickens me and runs counter to my faith. I have had enough of people telling me the kinds of words I can say in public or in a classroom. _]And they do not have to add _and so has Donald Trump.

***

At the heart of the passionate antipathy fueling the Trump emergence is a sure, if unarticulated, sense that something profound has been lost, and this is why America must become “great again.” Who feels this loss most intensely? Who are, culturally speaking, the biggest losers in this era? The answer, of late obscured by the present political tumult, is that men feel that loss: men for whom the acknowledgement of or the prospect of becoming losers has become unbearable. For diminished men and for women held in the sway of such men the best hope, despite anything his conduct reveals or that his many detractors contend, is a man who boasts— and who means it—“I know how to win.”

***

The uncomfortable truth is that males are not thriving in contemporary society. What a generation ago was a worrying trend has become normative. In school, boys have dramatically lost ground to girls. Too many boys are under performing and dropping out of secondary school in an age when a high school diploma is no guarantee of making a living. Too many boys and young men are hurting themselves, taking their lives, harming others. Too many boys and young men are refusing to engage in sustaining relationships and satisfying work. Listless and directionless, young men are increasingly under-enrolled in colleges and far more likely than young women to drop out before graduation. In social media and in commercial entertainments young men—“millennials”—are represented as self-absorbed, economically and otherwise insubstantial slackers. Their responses to pluckier, higher achieving female counterparts range from crude misogyny to defeated acceptance of their diminished status.

***

What is to become of such young men, men who fail to find their way to an effective manhood, men who feel outmanned by effective women, men whom the culture teaches not to offend but not how to proceed? These young men are likely to cling to the idle diversions of their boyhood—computer games, fantasy fictions. Full employment, setting up substantial residence, making life partnerships, promoting civic goals: these seem helplessly beyond them. They are the denizens of what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls Guyland. Kimmel goes so far as to suggest that the limbo-like condition of Guyland may represent a new life stage bridging what was once considered adolescence and manhood—except that, unlike adolescence or prior stages, this holding pattern adds nothing personally or socially beneficial to a male’s development.

***

Males failing to make their way into the larger culture is not a novelty of the so-called millennial era. Similar concerns about young males refusing to enter the adult order have been voiced for over a century. Considered analysis has been offered to explain the phenomenon of Oxford dandies who, after the ravages and collective demoralization after the Great War, celebrated extreme estheticism, effeminacy, homosexuality, their posturing including childish affectations such as carrying about teddy bears. Serious cultural observers, including Marie-Louise Von Franz, identified a worrying refusal to mature on the part of such figures as the dreamy aviator and author of The Little Prince, Antoine Saint-Exupery. Dan Kiley’s 1983 best-seller The Peter Pan Syndrome identified what he believed were clear patterns— a syndrome—in young men who, like J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan _ and his troop of Lost Boys, are determined to “never grow up.” For a decade beginning in the 1960s young males were the focal proponents of a counter-culture propelled by such slogans as “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Abbie Hoffman, author of the Yippy manifesto _Steal this Book (1971) proposed that “When I’m thirty, my goal is to act like I’m 15.” In 2014 the Urban Dictionary added the term “manolescent” to identify males refusing adulthood.

***

The problem is not new, but its depth, breadth, and frequency may be. It might even be argued now, as Hannah Rosen does in her 2012 book, The End of Men, that stalled, unwilling, under-skilled, and increasingly unwanted young males are becoming culturally and economically beside the point.

***

The portrayal of males as diminished, indeterminate figures is not limited to adolescents and young adults. Films pitched to infants and elementary school children—Frozen, Tangled, How to Tame your Dragon, among many others—feature courageous, capable girls who clearly cannot rely on anything like Prince Charming to save the day. At best, boys in these films are represented as affable side-kicks or sweet-natured wounded ducks, not reliably effectual. At the climax of the enormously successful Disney animated feature [Frozen _](2013), the standard fairy tale trope of the doomed princess being revived by a life-saving kiss is reversed; at the crucial moment, a kiss is delivered by the most probable young man—but it fails. All seems lost until the princess’s _sister is able to deliver the goods.

***

The current cultural outlook for older boys and young men is as grim or grimmer than Hannah Rosen described in her dark assessment of male prospects in the global economy. According the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) boys now trail girls in all disciplines, having lost a previously measured superiority in mathematics and analytic science. That these achievements for girls should be celebrated is beyond question, but the phenomenon represents something more than a correction of prior gender imbalances. Between one in four and one in five American boys drop out of high school. The majority of drug prescriptions for scholastic and behavioral difficulties are issued to boys. Boys receive the great majority of schools’ disciplinary measures and the majority of referrals for remedial instruction.

***

Looking past the scholastic achievement gap, the picture for young men is, if anything, worse. The United States is now incarcerating more people than any other nation in history: two and a half million, ninety-seven per cent of them male, most of them African American and Hispanic. Young men are four to five times more likely to take their own lives than are young women, and increasing numbers are doing so. Demographers like Thomas Mortenson at the Pell Institute indicate that imprisoned, unemployed, and under-employed young men are, among other things, an enormous, multi-billion dollar national expense when in a better world, they would be a productive natural resource. Imprisoned, unemployed, and under-employed men, including the legions of the young men in Guyland, are not on track to become committed life partners, effective parents, or contributors to civic life.

***

As girls and women have seized new scholastic and economic opportunities, longstanding shortcomings in boys’ development have become apparent in the competition for jobs and in the selection of life partners. In school, on the job, and in romantic relationships, females are increasingly less interested in males who are unable to work collaboratively, to carry their own weight, and to participate in respectful partnerships.

***

Despite this admittedly troubling picture, not all boys are lost. Nor, twenty years ago, were all girls lost, despite a river of popular and scholarly books trumpeting their loss of voice, forfeiture of their authenticity, and general suppression. That prior narrative has been replaced by a celebration of alpha girls, girls who become astronauts, who become superior athletes, CEOs, every kind of accomplished professional. The other half of The End of Men, Hanna Rosin’s provocative book title, is and the Rise of Women. A former plucky girl seemed on track to become President of the United States. Her male opponent, though widely represented as a developmentally arrested, posturing, misogynistic throw-back—a contemporary embodiment of The Ugly American—surprised the nation and its political pundits by winning the election. The leading explanation for the surprise is that undereducated males, males who have lost or fear losing their economic place, their sense of preeminence and self-esteem managed to combine in sufficient numbers to elect a President, one who in the person of Donald Trump, a builder of towers with his name on them in gold, will make them, if not America, great again.

***

At an early campaign rally candidate Trump exuberantly fielded the claim that his base was predominantly white, male, and uneducated. “We won with the poorly educated,” Trump crowed, “I love the poorly educated!” But in fairness, while diminished males were as a bloc the determining factor in Trump’s eventual electoral college victory, they could not have carried the election alone. There were the females whose fortunes and prospects were tied to those men. There was a measure of dislike and distrust of Hillary Clinton on behalf of both males and females. There was the quieter support of the wealthy, especially those in the financial sector, who stood to benefit from promised deregulation and tax cuts. The latter did not express their support by attending rallies and composing op ed pieces extolling their candidate—as it was embarrassing for established, educated people to be associated with someone speaking and behaving like Trump. But in practical regard for their holdings, they voted for him.

***

Of course the individuals inhabiting these categories would object to such characterization of their motives. They would claim vehemently that their support was driven by specific realities and concerns: the loss of domestic jobs, the over-regulation of their business and personal lives, our porous border to the south and the government’s timid approach to rounding up and returning illegal entrants, the need for a more imposing, bellicose response to hostile foreign powers, among many others. But even if, for the sake of argument, the validity of every one of these concerns is conceded, the question remains: what kind of filter is at work blocking input—including widely publicized, confirmed facts—about Trump’s behavior and character, behavior that would likely remove any such figure from consideration as a personal acquaintance, much less as President of the United States? Seemingly no personal indiscretion, no confirmed lie, no denigrating tweet has caused his “base” to waver in its support. In what condition is a person able to filter such disturbances out of his or her political thinking?

***

The answer is the embattled and diminished condition of contemporary males. As outlined above, these are men who have seen their work come to little and in some cases nothing. These are young men who have jumped off the scholastic train early and are facing grim and narrowing prospects for sustaining work. These are men who greet the appearance of women in work places and in other places where male dominance has been assumed, with resentment. These are men for whom a well-turned out, well established, and dauntingly assured woman President represented something like their ultimate negation—to the extent that they would cheer on their candidate’s exhortation to “lock her up.”

***

Seen this way, it is easy to understand why a direct pitch to male lost-ness and disaffection has resonated so powerfully. The deeper message is not the abstraction America that was once great and must become great again; it is men.

***

The restless vacancy of contemporary males—and of women attached to them—proceeds apace. Males’ deeply felt but unarticulated sense of diminishment is expressed in the stalled ennui of many millennials and now more focally in the support President Trump.

Lost males want to believe that a sense of place and purpose can be, if not restored, created anew. America will indeed become great again, strong again, white again. We will say what we want to again. Pursue women and sex as we were made to again. And we will be armed to the teeth. In none of this is the figure of Trump quite leading the charge. Maddeningly to those concerned with what may follow from revitalized Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and the retrogressive desires of the so called Alt-Right, Trump denies any such support or affiliation—while withholding anything like disapproval. In this provocative disinclination Trump, without having to state it, conveys an energizing permission for the darkest and deadliest inclinations of lost males.

Better Men

Despite a worrying national horizon, there is hope. It lies in the fact that while many contemporary males are misdirected and stalled in their personal development, some of them are not. Spirited boys who are loved and inclined to love, continue to make their way productively through their schools. They bring their energy and idealism to their work places and to their civic responsibilities. They do not aim to amass fortunes. The best of them will, in their dedication, kindness, and absence of avarice, be the very antithesis of what the figure of Donald Trump represents. They may choose to enter public life. They may seek to embody that ancient and all but lost story: of the good man who serves the polis.

***

But what will it take for that saving potential to become normative in the current cultural climate? Two factors point to a transformative shift. The first is the unexpected elevation to the Presidency of a man like Donald Trump. Perhaps the most focal figure in the western world, he has already become an outsized cautionary tale. Now he sits, orange and glowing on his presidential perch. Now the incoherence of his accumulated utterances, the uncovering with each passing week of more repellant past behavior, his reflexive inability to compose himself and to relate thoughtfully to others—have exhausted our collective capacity for surprise. Now those qualities begin to settle and to cohere, so that even those composing his “base” can begin to see what this past electoral cycle has wrought: the utter antithesis of the good man who serves the polis.

***

As that stunning reality crystalizes, the developmental pathway ahead for better boys and men is clarified: the good man, the hero of the polis will be an anti-Trump, as truthful and reliable as Trump has been mendacious and erratic, as thoughtful and patient as Trump has been impulsive, as empathic and others-regarding as Trump has been self aggrandizing. The good man will confront Trump, reject him, and replace him.

At this point I need to change key in order to become an “I” in this essay. I have compelling personal reasons to stress the masculine dimension of the present political crisis. For nearly fifty years I have been immersed in the lives of developing boys. Before that I was a developing boy.

For four decades I was a teacher, counselor, and coach to middle school and high school boys in a purposeful independent boys’ school. For the last seventeen years I was its headmaster and in that post managed to help forge a network with other boys’ schools around the world, now thriving as the International Boys’ Schools Coalition. I began my work at the school with no prior experience of an all-boys institution. I had attended coed public high schools, and my college and graduate school were also coed. What I observed and learned from an extended immersion in developing boys fascinated me, to the point that I wrote a number of books about the ways boys develop in school.

I wanted to document the remarkable and in some cases improbable personal realization experienced by all kinds of boys—gifted achievers, emotionally wounded boys, cognitively challenged boys—in what I believed was a simultaneously nurturing and rigorous setting. The progression of boys to the higher reaches of their individual potential was for me a continuing inspiration, but it was not lost on me that over the last two decades of my work in the school the achievements of the boys I worked with stood in dramatic contrast to a disturbing decline in the performance and condition of American schoolboys outlined in the introduction of this essay.

***

Upon retirement from my headmastership, I teamed up with Michael Reichert, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, to explore ways in which boys of every kind might better thrive. With the cooperation and support of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition, we conducted two successive research studies of boys and teachers in a variety of schools in The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. We wanted to hear from all kinds of boys in all kinds of schools, well-resourced college preparatory schools, economically straitened state schools, big schools, small schools, schools with special missions for the disadvantaged.

***

The premise of our investigations was very basic: that while boys are not thriving generally in the educational complex of the developed world, some boys are. Moreover, some are thriving in nearly every school. We wanted to identify what factors are at work when boys thrive. If there are common features of these factors-- common across all types of schools and all types of boys--those features might be adopted in settings where boys are not thriving.

***

Our first study was directed specifically to teaching approaches. We surveyed both boys and teachers about lessons each believed were especially effective from their respective viewpoints. We stressed to both boys and teachers who submitted narratives of their favored lessons that we wanted objective accounts of what transpired in the lesson discussed: what was actually said and done. We were not at all certain what we would get in response, but we were ultimately encouraged that not only were most of the narratives substantial, but they revealed a number of clear, common elements. Boys and teachers alike affirmed the success of lessons that culminated in a constructed project, lessons that combined elements of both collaboration and competition, lessons that asked boys to assume an instructional role in presenting material essential to their classmates’ understanding, lessons that incorporated a good deal of physical movement, lessons that were structured as games, lessons that addressed personal, existential questions such as ‘what is my purpose?’ ‘what does it mean to be honorable?’, ‘what does it mean to be a man?’ In the study of sciences and social sciences, boys and teachers reported special success with investigations of open, unsolved problems versus replicating and correctly identifying what is already known. Finally, boys treasured lessons that contained an element of drama, novelty, and surprise.

***

Our book sharing these findings, including many of the boys’ and teachers’ own narratives, was greeted warmly by our mainly scholastic readership, but in processing our results, Michael and I realized that perhaps the most interesting finding was something we had not asked or looked for. We had instructed participating boys and teachers to avoid subjectivity, adding that personal names should not be mentioned and that if they inadvertently were, we would omit them from our published findings. The teachers followed this instruction to the letter; no boy was named or individually described. But the boys were unable to do this.

***

Many of them were, despite our instructions, unable to discuss effective, compelling instruction without expressing their appreciation of and admiration for their instructors. At first, Michael and I were confused about this unasked for material. We wondered if we had been unclear in our instructions and prompts. Then it occurred to us that this “lapse” was a valuable finding: for the boys the central question was not what kind of scholastic content motivated them to engage, try, and master the task at hand, but rather for whom would they do those things. Taken together, the boys’ responses suggested transformative effect on boys held in certain kinds of relationships with their teachers.

So we designed a second, larger international study in which we asked boys and teachers to recount a specific student-teacher relationship that had a positive effect on their performance. We also asked them to recount a failed relationship. We were looking to see if we could document the positive, transformational effects of successful relationships. We wanted to know what gestures on the teachers’ part contributed to those relationships. The thousands of narratives submitted, reinforced by dozens of live focus groups conducted in the countries surveyed, confirmed overwhelmingly that relationship was not merely a desirable value-added in the teaching of boys, it is foundational. Relationship is the very medium through which effective teaching and personal guidance are carried out.

***

Boys held in attentive , caring relationships changed. Disruptive, obstructive, disengaged boys became engaged and positive contributors to class business. Boys who, due to past failure, frustration, and shame, arrived in classrooms with years of accrued resistance to the subject—mathematics, English literature, foreign language—thawed out, engaged, and tried. Non- and under-performing students achieved competence and mastery. Strong students exceeded prior expectations.

***

We were able to identify a number of common gestures teachers extended in the formation of successful relationships. We found that those gestures—persistently reaching out to resistant boys, getting to know their out-of-school circumstances and interests, sharing their own interests and enthusiasms, not personalizing boys’ opposition or poor scholastic performance, admitting vulnerability-- succeeded whether extended by beginning or seasoned teachers, male or female teachers. The same successful gestures were reported by teachers of all scholastic subjects, including physical education and athletics. Those same gestures succeeded in every type of school and with the full range of the boys enrolled, boys of all races and faiths and economic circumstances. Almost all of the thousands of teacher narratives we reviewed addressed a relationship established with an underperforming or resistant student.

***

Of the many particular relational findings we reported in our ensuing book, perhaps the most promising is that teachers reversed poor scholastic performance and behavioral obstruction when they attended to their relationship with the boy in question before they addressed the scholastic or behavioral concern.

***

But why, given pressing political realities, this seeming digression into strategies for better mentoring schoolboys? The answer is that relationally effective boys point the way to better men. Boys held in caring, respectful relationships, even boys for whom earlier nurture has been problematic, do not merely learn more and behave better, they develop the capacity to establish needed relationships themselves. In our study boys held in sustaining relationships overcame the fear of failure that had blocked their willingness to engage. Boys held in sustaining relationships grew past the swaggering and posturing that directed attention away from their dreaded inadequacies.

***

Relationally engaged males are collaborators, open to the task at hand. Relationally engaged males are the antithesis of the embattled, isolated and lonely figure of President Trump in his glass tower tweeting out his resentments in the small hours of the morning.

***

Relationally engaged males are confident enough to shed regressive male stereotypes and thus become all that males might be. The ominous rise of The Awful Man calls the better man to the barricades.

***

If not yet arrived, there are better men on the way. They will take up the mantle of good men and women currently bucking the Trump era tide. Some will refuse celebrity and personal gain in order to focus on the factors presently dividing the nation. Their concern will not be that America becomes great again but whole again.. With more than half the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few hundred plutocrats, there is not enough wealth in play to address the nation’s critical needs: to repair and upgrade physical infrastructure, to insure equal and universal access to necessary services, such as police protection, effective schools, and medical care. Dwarfing these immediate needs is the urgency of reaching a committed consensus that the challenges posed by climate change are real, and that it is imperative to do what is necessary to insure the air is breathable, water drinkable, the planet habitable.

***

The achievement of these wholly attainable ends will depend in part on the emergence of different, better men than those who are shaping our present politics. Relationally effective men have learned how to listen, find out, share, explain and persuade. They will prevail not by vanquishing hardened ideological foes but by transforming them.

***

The emergence of better men and the ensuing correction of the nation’s political course has actually been hastened by the rise of Trump and his cabinet. It is helpful that Trump is not reticent or secretive, that he cannot help letting the public know just what he feels and thinks. We know the kind of work he has done in the world, the kinds of deals he has made, the shiny glass towers he has erected bearing his name in gold, the luxury golf courses and resorts. A screen writer or novelist could not create a gaudier or more self-absorbed demagogue—although in 1934 Nathanael West came eerily close in his novella A Cool Million.

Relationally effective, collaborative males are not politically corrected, softer males. They are fully realized males, capable of rising to the historic call to confront injustice, right civic wrongs, serve and save the polis.

***

We are waiting.

Cited Sources

Kimmel, Michael, Guyland (2008). New York: HarperCollins

***

Rosen, Hanna . [_The End of Men and the Rise of Women _](2012). New York: Riverhead Books

***

Mortenson, Thomas G., “What’s Wrong With the Guys” (2003). Paper. Washington D.C.: Pell Institute

***

Hawley, Richard, Reichert Michael. Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys (2010). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

***

Hawley, Richard, Reichert, Michael, I Can Learn From You: Boys as Relational Learners (2014), Cambridge: Harvard University Press

About the Author

A writer of fiction, poetry, and literary non-fiction, Richard Hawley has published more than twenty books and several monographs. His essays, articles and poems have appeared in dozens of literary, scholarly, and commercial journals, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, American Film, Commonweal, America, Orion, The New England Journal of Medicine, [The Christian Science Monitor, _]and in many literary anthologies. For ten years he taught fiction and non-fiction writing at The Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont, and he continues to teach developing writers in a variety of settings. Recent work, including his novel, _The Three Lives of Jonathan Force, draws increasingly from depth psychology and classical philosophy to illuminate contemporary problems.


Masculinity: Stalled Males and the Emergence of Donald Trump

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  • Published: 2017-01-24 02:20:09
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Masculinity:  Stalled Males and the Emergence of Donald Trump Masculinity:  Stalled Males and the Emergence of Donald Trump