Number 168-170 -
In this issue:
Has It Really Been This Long?
"Out of Our Heads" Release: Men's Wisdom Council
Common Ground? A Quiz
The Battlefield of the Mind
Common Ground: Quiz Answers
Hot Link: Rape Culture?
Has It Really Been This Long?
It's been 14 years since I started up Menletter as an e-letter. Soon after that I went to an e-letter plus a website. I never thought this would become a major force in the men's movement, but I've been gratified to be in the lives of the few men who follow it. I'm deeply grateful to anyone who has taken even a few small steps with me on this journey. I'm also deeply grateful to my wife, Ann, whose editing and comments have made me as clear as I can be in my ideas and how I express them.
I know I'm slowing down, as you can see in the increasing number of combined-month issues. But I'm still here.
A lot has happened in my life in the past 14 years (well, also in the past 72). Every once in a while it's handy to glance back at the past. Here's a little piece I wrote 11 years ago about those glances.
"Out of Our Heads" Release: Men's Wisdom Council
The documentary created and produced by my friends Leo Horrigan and Allen Moore has been released and is being screened - thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised funds to get the project through the last steps.
I've shared clips from the documentary in a previous Menletter, and now the entire 45-minute video is available on line.
The video depicts the essence of an annual men's gathering that's been going on in western Massachusetts for over 20 years. I'd be the last person on Earth to suggest that this kind of gathering is something that every man should experience. But I know, and have seen, and have experienced how profoundly moving and life-changing such an experience can be for those men who are open to it.
Here's the link to the video. Click on the word "link" in the previous sentence, or click on the picture below.
This year's Men's Wisdom Council will take place June 5-10 in Hawley, Mass. You can get details here.
Common Ground? A Quiz
It's all too easy to see the other side in one dimension. And that can lead to untold grief on both sides. Let me explain. I'll start by characterizing, as best I can, the two sides in American society. And then follow up with a quiz. And then propose some answers.
All people on the side opposite mine are willfully ignorant gun-totin' white supremacist knuckle-dragger creationist Bible-thumping pro-lifers motivated by hate and actively resistant to science and logic. They value individual effort. They hate government intervention and regulation, and they hate us on the other side. When they're not all these things - at the other end of a spectrum that has no middle - they're rich fat cat one-percenters who control most of our society and get richer and richer by preying on the lower 99 percent: suppressing pay, busting unions, promising job creation and riches that never materialize.
People on the other side see my side as populated with atheistic effete new-age vegan do-gooder job-killing bleeding-heart baby-killers who mindlessly try to dole out other people's money to lazy good-for-nothing poor people. We value collective action and government protection through regulations and laws, and we hate the people on the other side. We use "science" and "statistics" and "facts" as ways to manipulate people into accepting the government overlords' agenda, including evolution (it's just a theory after all), bogus alarms about global warming, and especially including the confiscation of all firearms. When we're not all these things, we are privileged pointy-headed professors who elevate our notions to theories and our theories to "facts" that have nothing to do with the "real" world outside our ivory towers.
Okay, here's the quiz: Name four things that both groups have in common.
(It's open-book, so you can refer to the preceding paragraphs, but they probably won't do you much good).
Take your time. You won't be graded.
[Insert quiz show music of your choice.]
Now scroll past the next article for some ideas.
The Battlefield of the Mind
Australian soldier James Greenshields was a mess. Commander in Iraq of a team of 110 men, he had been in the hospital having shrapnel removed from his head, the result of a roadside bomb. He had initially refused evacuation because he would not leave his men and his vehicle.
When James returned to Australia, he had some of the classic marks of PTSD. Let him tell about it:
When I finally returned to Australia, I couldn't hold a conversation for nearly seven weeks. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Then, without notice, it descended upon me, like a foggy cloud I didn't see coming; nor could I explain.
I started to see people as threats, even when they were actually trying to help me; reach out to me. I saw their approaches as intimidating, and so retreated inside to a place I thought safe; a place I thought I could control. I isolated myself. Not a great place for a husband and father to occupy. And as I was to find out, a place where I had no control anyway.
The next 12 months were confusing. I was doing really well at work, but when I got home I'd fall apart. As is so often the case, those closest to us experience our darkest side.
He came out of this and now lives a life of "happiness and joy," peaceful in mind and heart, and deeply connected to his wife and daughters. He has founded the Resilient Leaders Foundation, bringing his message to others in Australia and on the Web.
How did James do this? How could he even begin to heal? Here's James again: "Because I owned my shit. I put my hand up and admitted to myself something was not the way I wanted it to be inside, and I didn't know how to fix it."
He put his hand up. And that's the essential message to men buried deep in their own stuff. Putting his hand up was a symbolic gesture, a willingness to seek help. He was not only sunk into his PTSD, he was sunk into received ideas of masculinity:
For this process to start, I had to get rid of the false belief that masculinity is a tough chin; that a resilient man is someone with huge shoulders upon which he can carry more 'stuff'. This is exactly what broke me inside. Everyone has his or her breaking point and this false belief is literally killing men.
James has gone on to post several videos, start a Facebook page, and start the Resilient Leadership Foundation.
An article about him, and an early video about putting our hands up, are here in the Australian edition of Huffington Post.
Common Ground - Quiz Answers
Here are the things that I think both groups have in common:
One, most people in both groups are good-hearted. They want the best for their families, especially their kids, and most work hard and make sacrifices to that purpose. They want the best for their communities. It's hard to demonize folks who love their children and their communities.
Two, both groups really don't know much about each other beyond news clips and the claims of their thought leaders.
Three, both groups are at least a little afraid of each other.
Four, many people in both groups are driven by orthodoxy.
I think this last one is very important and needs a bit of explaining.
Orthodoxy brings to mind bearded priests (Eastern Orthodox) or rabbis (Orthodox Judaism) with rigid beliefs - or a person of any religion who adheres strongly to traditional beliefs and practices.
I think we can expand this meaning to any belief and/or practice whose adherents think that theirs is the only "right" way (one of the meanings of the Greek prefix "ortho").
This can appear in nearly every human endeavor - religion of course, but also culture, fashion, politics, education, academics, science, medicine, sports, even nutrition and cooking and maybe even grammar.
Does "orthodox" mean "narrow-minded"? "Ignorant"? Let's be careful here. If we think those on the other side of an endeavor are narrow-minded or ignorant, we have created an orthodoxy of our own. We often don't see it, however.
We all want answers. We want the comfort of knowing the answers. And our beliefs provide answers that lead to comforting practices. And our practices are the "right" practices. And people who stray from our beliefs and practices are not "right." Faced with the possibility that answers might change, we stop asking questions.
Many people on "my" side (we liberals, bleeding-hearts and all the rest) have one of the more dangerous orthodoxies: we imagine that we're open-minded. We have no idea how strongly we hold on to our beliefs and practices.
All of our orthodoxies limit and narrow our vision. It's nice and comfy and quiet in there. Everything outside our little cone of silence (thanks, Maxwell Smart) sounds grating and annoying. And scary: unorthodox beliefs and practices could destroy our communities and families, or at least destroy our comfort.
Hot Link - Rape Culture?
I ran across a video recently laying out the statistics, or lack of them, behind rape on college campuses. Supposedly one in five women will be raped or sexually assaulted before graduation: the video ties the statistic to a phenomenon called "Rape Culture" and includes a somber quote about rape culture by Joe Biden.
The video, presented by Caroline Kitchens from the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), offers a counterargument, backed up by a few statistics. The original one-in-five statistic was based, according to Kitchens, on a fairly superficial study: self-reporting from 5000-plus women in two colleges, one in the Midwest and one in the South. Kitchens claims that the study was flawed in numerous other ways, including using the Internet to send a questionnaire to the respondents and not verifying their claims.
Rape and other sexual crimes are serious issues, and should be punished accordingly. And if true, the one-in-five statistic should have young women and their parents very nervous.
In case you don't bother with Kitchens's video, here's the gist, according to studies cited by Kitchens: Rape is on a long-term decline generally; the rate is more like one in over 50 (still horrible); college-educated women are less likely to be raped on a college campus than off a college campus. Kitchens also makes a logical point: if the one-in-five statistic were true, many or most parents wouldn't be sending their daughters to college.
Initially, given the studies Kitchens cites, I tended to go along with her analysis, even though her references whizzed by as I watched. My wife encouraged me to dig deeper, and I found myself in a labyrinth of data, claims, and conclusions.
Kitchens's video is just over five minutes long - not a sure indication of superficial reporting, but the statistics she cites did go by pretty quickly. On my second viewing, I had to go back over small sections of the video, hitting "pause," just to be clear about what she was saying and to get some references I could look up. And then I hit Google.
It seems that both the proponents and debunkers of "rape culture" have some valid points. I started with a story by Alia Wong in the online edition of The Atlantic: "Why the Prevalence of Campus Sexual Assault Is So Hard to Quantify: Every statistic seems to be contradicted by another one" (January 26, 2016). There are many links to external sources in the article, and though I highly recommend this article, I admit that it could become difficult to navigate the labyrinth of popular-press articles and government studies.
One link was to the 2007 US Department of Justice study, which Kitchens uses as her main reference and criticizes for being the basis for the one-in-five claim. And some of the other articles I found in the Atlantic post link back to it. The 2007 study seems to me to have been carried out very carefully, and the authors define their terms and the structure of the study (in 111 pages) and warn against overinterpretation of the results. The one-in-five statistic in one of the charts conflated actual forced rapes and rapes accompanied by alcohol or drugs with attempted rapes and completed and attempted assaults that weren't rapes - for instance, forced kissing or even attempted forced kissing. The authors did not make claims about one in five women being raped, nor did they use the term "rape culture" (first coined in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia).
I followed many other links in the Atlantic article and in the articles it sent me to - which I doubt you'll bother with. One article concluded that rather than a pervasive rape culture on college campuses, there was a small percentage of men committing the vast majority of rapes.
If you've stayed with me this far (thank you), let me just stick my own nose into the situation:
Is there a true rape culture on college campuses? Probably not. Does Kitchens's video, by itself, make a definitive case against the term "rape culture"? Probably not. Bottom line from the mixed salad of articles on the Internet? Sexual assault of all kinds is real (and horrible); reporting of incidents and prosecuting of perpetrators needs to be made easier and less traumatizing to the victims; accused perpetrators deserve due process (not only to mitigate false accusations but because due process is guaranteed by the Constitution); convicted perpetrators need to be punished severely. Finally: There is a lot of room for intensified efforts at education, in academic institutions and in the wider society, of all aspects of sexual assault - from prevention to victim empowerment.
And here's my educational message for readers of Menletter: If you think rape or assault is okay; if you think women "have it coming to them" or that they are merely objects for your pleasure: over ninety percent of the men around you consider you to be the worst kind of scum. You're not only making the rest of us look bad, you're making our sincere attempts at romantic connection a lot harder. And, of course, you're needlessly traumatizing women. Clean up your act.
Aftermath: A Broader Issue
There's a broader issue, beyond the discussion above, about research and the way popular culture and the Internet mess things up. When a set of claims about a problem becomes a meme (as I think happened with the term "rape culture" and the Super Bowl claim in the next paragraph), the meme takes over and stops or distorts further inquiry, into both the underlying facts and the best ways to address the problem.
Some supposed phenomena, ostensibly backed up by purported statistics, but with dubious factual support, take on lives of their own. As memes, they are hard to refute, and factual evidence is ignored or discounted as politically motivated.
An example from 1993 was that domestic abuse skyrocketed on Super Bowl Sunday - apparently perpetrated by testosterone-poisoned and beer-soaked men. The media was filled with warnings and advice about prevention. This meme was debunked years ago (see the Snopes.com article here). Yet in the third quarter of Super Bowl 50 (2016) a commercial from the organization "No More" aired a warning about domestic abuse. This commercial was reported widely, with links to a video of it, including the online edition of Sports Illustrated.
Even ostensibly scientific medical investigation is not immune to playing around with facts and coming to preordained conclusions. An example is a meta study of research, leading to the questionable claim that men should not be screened for prostate cancer. See my articles here and here.
Any claim, especially one that gains wide distribution, can be solid, or it can be the result of a combination of careless research, a political agenda, a compliant media machine, lazy journalism, and sometimes downright dishonesty. This applies not only to social issues but to "hard" science research, medicine, and anything else for which results are supposed to be backed by numbers.
It's always a good idea to check out Snopes, but also to seek out further information by following links in online articles and by Googling the study, the authors, and other research on the topic. Specifically, what question was being asked? Was it asked in such a way as to bias the numbers? How much data were collected? How much of the data was cherry-picked, ignored, or set aside? Does the interpretation match the data or lapse into speculaton? Who is making claims, and what is their affiliation? What other, independent studies are cited? Is the article we're reading a rehash in the popular press or websites? This kind of due diligence can be difficult, time-consuming, confusing, and annoying. I certainly discovered that in trying to untangle the skein of information and misinformation about rape culture. But that's what due diligence is all about. It can keep us from going crazy or from spouting counterarguments with no backup.
Should We Answer?
As men, we have a vested interest in claims having to do with violence, crime, assault, the wage gap, and any other claim purporting that all men or most men or even lots of men do harmful things. When we hear something that sounds fishy (like the one-in-five meme being equated to rape culture), it probably doesn't do us a lot of good launching into a verbal dueling match - mansplaining, you know. I suggest listening carefully and then saying: "Hmmm. I'm not sure I agree. But I don't have enough information to form a clear response. I'll get back to you." And I suppose it's a bad idea to say anything that can be quoted to others with intentional or unintentional misinterpretation.
This gives us breathing space to do a little research and to decide whether the "get back to you" part is worth doing.
A lot of times, it's not worth it. The readers of Menletter are mostly of like mind and agreeable. And I get to write and edit my thoughts. But in the heat of a verbal exchange, with someone who is angry and unmovable, I try (my ego doesn't always cooperate) to disengage.
[Many many thanks to my wife, Ann, for encouraging me to do my own due diligence for this article.]