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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Men’s Body Wash: Liquid Masculinity in the Shower…or is it?

I remember when men’s body washes did not even exist. Men used to use bar soap (because they were “manly” men, and they did not want to smell “girly”).

Now, there are entire ad campaigns for men’s body washes that seek to make it socially acceptable and even desirable for men to use these products.

In another Dove commercial, they discuss “man-hide” and the toughness of men's skin in relation to cow hide or leather. What is interesting is Dove’s argument that its product is actually made to soften the man-hide. Does this mean that American culture has actually shifted so as to allow men to have moisturized, soft skin like their female counterparts? Perhaps, as long as there is there is first an allusion to the toughness of such hide… Are gender roles shifting gradually, or are they equally present but masked by effective marketing? Hmmm…

Old Spice, on the other hand, tells men to “be comfortable in your own skin”. Its commercials allude to one man’s “muscle body” and his “striking brown eyes” while a man in another ad encourages men to use Old Spice instead of lady-scented body washes. The marketing this company employs appears to also appeal to women to a certain degree. In placing attractive male models in their commercials, these companies are not only trying to appeal to men who use the products but to women who will (in the minds of the marketers) shop for the products and smell the products their partners use when they bathe. Are these men’s or women’s products?? Again, does it matter? It’s just soap…

I still remember the original Old Spice that my grandfather wore when I was younger, and I will never forget that smell…. I knew that I probably did not want to smell like that when I grew up, but he, my other grandfather, and my father encouraged my interest in body care and cologne. This connection we make with the male figures in our lives can result in our long-term commitment (or lack thereof) to body care and maintenance of our appearance and bodies.

It is fascinating that as we get older we often keep similar if not better hygiene routines that we learned from such figures in our lives. The focus on hygiene, however, becomes less of a connection with male figures in our lives but how appealing or masculine men are when they use such products.

What do you consider when you purchase masculine hygiene products (aka “soap”)?

Mark Halastik

Update: Sesame Street takes a jab at Old Spice with "Smell Like A Monster" and makes you think how ridiculous this approach to stereotyping men through hygiene products really is:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Good Day for Sports and Masculinity

It is no secret that the professional sports world often portrays some of the worst of what it means to be a man in today’s world. Former and current athletes being accused and convicted of sexual violence, super star athletes celebrating their hubris on national television, and athletes using their money and power for sexual conquests, the examples are sadly easy to come by.

But how about this for a positive spin on today’s athletes?! While I know nothing about Rory McIlroy’s personal life, it seems that many in the sporting world have been drawn to the young man’s humility, poise, and character. After breaking several records, and dominating the U.S Open, it is his positive, humble personality making headlines. A prime example mentioned in the article is that following the Master’s Tournament, in which Mr. McIlroy fell short, some might say “choked”, he used his post-game interview to mention that it would help build his character rather than belittling sports fans.

I don’t know about you but this is was much needed breath of fresh air for both professional sports and masculinity.

Keith Bradley

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speaking Up: When, Where, Why?

Recently, I was at lunch with a good friend of mine. Let’s call this friend Jack. Jack and I were enjoying each other’s company and conversation until he brought up a girl we both know (we’ll call her Susie). Jack went on to describe how much he did not like Susie. “She’s cold,” he said, “honestly, I have never felt an ounce of warmth from Susie,” Jack went on. Now, I may not have gotten my feathers all ruffled if it wasn’t for the fact that I happen to like Susie! I told Jack that perhaps all his built up frustration with Susie is stemming from the fact that he doesn’t know her all that well. “I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of time with Susie,” I told him. “She really is pretty awesome,” I continued. “No man,” Jack said, “she’s cold, she’s a b****.”

And there’s the rub. I was perfectly respectful of Jack’s thoughts on Susie until the final above-mentioned comment of his. Sure, I thought his opinions were unwarranted. I had concluded that Jack just didn’t know her and that he just didn’t know what he was saying. However, that all changed when he employed the use of a single word: a word so derogatory, chauvinistic, and offensive that I simply could not listen to my good friend Jack any longer. I stopped him right in his tracks. I interrupted him and told him he had crossed the line. Jack looked confused, surprised at how irritated I had become. I explained to him that that word was exceptionally hateful and that he had no idea what he was talking about. Jack laughed it off and insisted he did not mean to be hateful. I believed him. In fact, I felt bad I had gotten so hostile towards him. I even apologized!

Now, as I reflect on my scuffle with Jack I only feel worse. I should have held my ground. I should have defended Susie with more passion. I definitely should not have apologized. So I ask, readers, am I analyzing this too closely? Was I out of line in confronting my good friend and perhaps, if the discussion was prolonged, putting our relationship in jeopardy? In a more general sense, what are your thoughts on speaking up? When is it appropriate and when is it best to just let it slide?

Ryan Derry

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trauma Informed Allies

I recently joined an agency whose mission relates to the stabilization, care and healing of kids in crisis. The agency’s culture and model of care revolves around an idea called trauma informed care. At the center of this model lives the realization that some kind of trauma happened to these kids. With this realization, we do not ask “What’s wrong with you?”, rather “What happened to you?”

As allies in the fight against sexual assault, we need to lead a similar paradigm shift when we support victims of sexual assault. Just accepting and understanding that a trauma has occurred and taking this view to our communities would be a good first step. But then a trauma informed model pushes us to accept that we must help stabilize, care for, and heal victims - without judgment. Some (perhaps not readers of this blog post) have a difficult time with the “without judgment” part of the trauma informed model. How do we lead this paradigm shift in our community?

The idea of Historical Contingency (future events are caused by a unique past) can inform our interaction and relationship with victims of sexual assault and bring the same to the larger community. If we can agree that events share a cause and effect structure then we can view a sexual assault as an event caused by other specific events in a certain context. This cause and effect structure is actually at the root of victim blaming so prevalent in our culture. But, this cause and effect structure can also be at the root of our counter argument if framed by the ideas of Historical Contingency.

We have all heard the insane chorus; “if she was not wearing this or that”, “if she would have not been drinking, or if she had planned ahead the attack would not have happened”. Historical Contingency asks, “How do you know?” How do you know what would or would not have caused the attack to happen? How do you know if it was what she was wearing, or where she was, or what plan she had would have changed the outcome? How do you know?

Historical Contingency makes a distinction between events with necessary causes and events with contingent causes. Put another way, for the outcome that did happen, could only one thing cause it or could many causes still have resulted in the same outcome? Were the events that lead up to the attack necessary (could the causes have not lead to any other outcome) or were the events contingent (could many causes have still lead to the same outcome)?

If the causes were necessary or contingent, it does not matter. No matter what the circumstances are or how many times we run through a scenario the only person that is responsible for sexual assault is the offender. The victim is never at fault no matter what she/he does. And all that matters is that the trauma occurred and forever impacts the victim. The critical point; the necessary cause of a sexual assault is always the attacker. The surrounding circumstances, the other causes, should not be part of our conversation.

Jim Doyle – Founder,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

“When I Learned that Bullets were Frozen Tears”

Eve Ensler (activist, author, and playwright most known for The Vagina Monologues) used the above title for a chapter in her book Insecure at Last. Since the first time I read this chapter I have been moved by the accuracy of her description of one part of the complexity of violence, particularly men’s violence in our world. I call it emotional amputation, and it's what a lot of us experience as boys who are taught to sever ties with any emotion outside of anger and rage. Our training takes place about the time we learn to walk and is instructed by any number of nurturers in our lives. We get this lesson on playgrounds, in backyards, locker rooms, on the ball field, in the band hall, the classroom, and various other common spaces that boys find themselves throughout childhood and adolescence. It sounds a bit like this:

“Get up! You ain’t hurt.”
“Quit crying or I’m going to give you something to cry about.”
“Suck it up!”
“If someone hurts you, you hurt them back!”
“Never back down!”
“Win at all costs!”

And the list goes on….

Ensler talks about two types of power in the aforementioned chapter, a power that comes from feeling and adequately processing emotions, and a power that comes with denying and suppressing emotions. She says:

"There is a power that comes out of surrendering to grief and a power that results in refusing it. I think they are two different types of power. The one that emerges through allowing grief feels clean, purged, and inclusive. You have experienced pain and grief so you would not want to inflict it on someone else. The kind of power that emerges through the denial of grief is aggressive power. It is trying to conquer something, annihilate something, and over come something. It emerges out of fear and a need to protect oneself from feeling, which then becomes a country, a people, etc. It is inauthentic power. It is not shamanic; one has not passed through something in order to arrive there. It is manufactured power in order to manipulate, bully or deny.”

In the midst of this tragic reality there is good news. We can choose to reclaim our full emotional lives and as Ensler describes above, surrender to moving through our hurts in ways that don't harm others but instead heal us and others. If more men would open themselves up to the full range of emotions, and process and express them in respectful ways, the world would be a much safer place. And if more men and women would stop emotionally amputating young boys and instead nurture them to experience, process, and respectfully express all emotions, the world could be transformed…because all at once the power to heal would replace the need for the power to harm.

John Tramel