230 - WTF is Positive Masculinity?

Masculinity is a touchy subject for a lot of people. We're looking at some ways masculinity has been gauged and studied throughout history, and if masculinity is important to you, how to relax your hold on it a bit in order to promote a healthier attitude for yourself and others.

Visit https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/interactives/strong-men-caring-women/ for some interesting, well-researched information about words and how they’re coded either male or female.

Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.

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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about positive masculinity. Now, masculinity is something that's been requested quite a bit of us. It's also a tricky subject to talk about. For some people, it's fundamental to their identity and needs to be defended. To others, it's something destructive, that needs to be eliminated or minimized. Some find it an impossible standard for themselves to live up to. Others find it difficult to even talk about at all.

Dedeker: Jase, This is a subject that's near and dear to your heart. Is it because you identify as a dude?

Jase: It's because I was raised as a dude and identify as a man and yet have struggled with all the different sides of that. I feel like I've been through all of those different things, of feeling like masculinity is something that does need to be stood up for sometimes. Other times, I've been like, "No, actually, let's do away with it entirely. I don't want to have anything to do with it." Other times, feeling challenged by it and other times feeling challenged to try to not be it as much as possible. Just the whole range, right?

Emily: Yes. I was out to dinner with my partner and two friends last night or another heterosexual couple, I guess. My partner and they both identify as men. They were talking about the idea of what it means to be a man. My friend was like, "I don't even like identifying as a man, I usually identify as a dude or a guy," just because the connotation around man and being a man like Batman or whatever is so difficult and hard to come to terms with. Especially in this day and age sometimes have really negative connotations that go along with that. It's understandable that, for a lot of people, this is a really challenging subject.

Jase: Yes. It was something for me in college, was the first time that I encountered that this was a thing that people studied at all, interestingly, as a subset of the Women's Studies Department, because there isn't a Men's Studies Department. Learning about it was fascinating just the fact that there are people who write academic books about this and things. To me, that was mind-blowing at the time. Reading some of it and being incredibly upset by a lot of it--

Emily: What was upsetting about it?

Dedeker: Yes, What were the things are most upsetting to you?

Jase: It was the first time that the way masculinity is taught to boys and was taught to myself was spelled out. Some of the just really fucked up stuff was pointed out to me. It was just like, "Oh, gosh." Just the ways like, sexual domination, or violence or control of others and things like that, the way that those are glorified, or specifically as ways to restore your masculinity if you feel like it's being threatened or if you feel insecure about it that were given like, "Oh, the solution to that is to have sex or be violent to someone, or maybe both at the same time".

This was one particular author who took a very strong stance on this, but for me, at the time was very shocking and I hadn't looked at it that way, or considered it that way. It's really interesting, doing research for this episode, and hearing about how the study has changed over time and different ways that people have tried to approach this topic.

Dedeker: I find that the study itself is really fascinating. Because it's like we can, on the layperson level, as it were. The level that we're talking at all the time, because we're not technically scientists, not yet.

Jase: Not yet.


Dedeker: We can sit here and just shoot the shit and talk about our opinions and throw our thoughts and feelings about masculinity, but separate from that, the actual academic study of masculinity is something that's been happening for much longer than I realized since about the mid 1900s. About 1930, is where you put it, Jase?

Jase: Yes, at least that was an era when that started being studied as an independent thing, at least as far as I understand.

Dedeker: Okay, got it. So basically, the idea is that from about 1930 up until 1980, masculinity was studied under something known as the GRIP model, G-R-I-P.

Emily: Which seems- you're right. Yes, intense and masculine. It's just something gripping onto something else.

Jase: I suppose. Yes.

Dedeker: They weren't going to cut off. Nevermind, that was going to be a joke that made no sense. I'm not going to tell it.

Emily: Oh, gosh.

Dedeker: The GRIP model, which stands for the Gender Role Identity Paradigm, which basically defines that like, healthy development of yourself as a human being. Also, having good emotional well-being was tied to adhering to the gender roles that society was holding. Basically, this idea of--Correct me if I'm wrong in this, Jase--but my understanding of this is that it's- your way back to well-being is to live up to expectations of your gender. Your man is like, seeking that very masculine path of being the breadwinner, and being the sole provider and being the head of the family and doing sports ball things. That's good because you're a man and so to fall in line with that, that's good for you and your family.

Emily: Being self sufficient.

Jase: Yes. The impression I got too was that it wasn't even like your path to well-being is to adhere more to your gender role, but instead, that gender role wasn't really questioned at all and instead, it's just like, to be more healthy, become more normal, which is these things if you're a man and these things if you're a woman. That also, during this time, as is the case with a lot of things, in the field of psychology, studying men was more just considered studying just normal humans, and women were the different thing. Right?

Dedeker: Right. That's been a holder for a long time. Man is the default body. It's the default psychology. It's the default word for human beings, and women are the outliers.

Emily: Yes. Fascinating.

Dedeker: Okay, so that's grip. Post 1980 came what I'm going to call it the grasp.

Emily: Oh, yes. You're right. Grip and Grasp. So gently, or intensely.

Dedeker: On sneaking a little sneaky A into there, it's not supposed to be an A, it's GRSP, so more of GRSP. That stands for Gender Role Strain Paradigm. That was proposed in 1981, and that focused more on the damaging and restrictive aspects of male socialization. I feel like it's the first time that we're starting to look at, "Maybe these things that we've told everyone as normal are actually causing some damage that we're not aware of."

Jase: This is definitely like the paradigm under which those books I was reading in college were written. Right?

Dedeker: Interesting. Okay.

Jase: Which was very much like, "Let's let's look at how damaging and toxic the socialization is for men." It's looking at the pathology of it.

Dedeker: That's still around today.

Emily: Oh, yes.

Jase: Oh, yes. Still very active today. Yes.

Dedeker: In the mid to late 2000s, there was a group of psychologists that proposed the-- What am I going to call this one? The papopums? Prrumpumpumpum?

Dedeker: It's PPPM, that's the best I got. Anyway, that stands for Positive Psychology Positive Masculinity Paradigm. There's actually another P on the end there, so really should be PPPMP.

Emily: Wow, there's PPPMP.

Dedeker: Yes. PPPMP. So what's that all about?

Jase: Right. You may remember from-- Gosh, it's been a while now. Several episodes back, we talked about positive psychology and that field. This is basically a study of masculinity that has come from the field of positive psychology as opposed to the more traditional psychology more studies pathologies and studies problems whereas the efforts of positive psychology is like, "Well, what if instead we look at studying what does healthy functioning people look like? What does that look like? How can we find ways to help people do more of that rather than just looking at these acute problems?"

Emily: The Pathologies pathologizing masculinity.

Dedeker: Working backward?

Jase: Right. This goes back even before the term positive psychology existed too. I think Maslow was one of the founders of this idea of like, "Hey what if we studied healthy people to try to figure out what even healthy looks like." Because it's not something that's really been codified and looked at before that. Positive psychology is still very active today and has been shown to be very helpful in a lot of fields, but this thing in the mid to late 2000s was essentially a group of psychologists within positive psychology saying, "Hey, what if we apply this to masculinity too? Let's try to figure out what's the positive parts of masculinity? What does healthy masculinity look like? How can we encourage that, teach that? Things like that."

Emily: As the resident men in the room, I suppose, I guess probably both Dedeker and I are wondering why is all this really important to study? Because I get it, I get that it is important to change the narrative around what masculine thinking is, or what people think of as masculinity, and what healthy masculinity is, but why would you think that this is an important thing to study?

Jase: Well, I'm actually going to turn this question over to someone else.

Dedeker: What? There is someone else in the room?

Jase: Awhile ago, actually about a year ago I started doing interviews with men talking about masculinity, and one of the people that I talked to is professor Jonathan Branfman who I read about from a couple of different articles that were written. One very positive and one very scathing about a course he was teaching about the problems of masculinity being attacked by the right-wing pundits and red pillars and stuff that he's destroying masculinity and being praised by other people for doing this class. Something that I did talk to him about was this question. I just want to play his answer to this section and I think in the bonus episode for this episode for our patrons, we're going to play some more from this interview with him and we're going to talk about that a little more. Let me just play his answer to that question.

Professor Jonathan Branfman: That is the most common critique of feminist masculinity studies, that every book you'll ever read in feminist masculinity studies starts with, "I know that some readers in the field of feminist studies are going to think this topic shouldn't be talked about at all. Here is why we think it should." Beliefs about masculinity exist and shape people's behavior. How could we possibly change the system of gender inequality and violence if we don't address people's beliefs about their bodies? If we don't acknowledge that little boys grow up watching kiss the girl in The Little Mermaid, how are we going to change that behavior?

To the parent in the audience who said, "I don't tell my child about masculinity," I want to say like, "Sorry to burst your bubble, but the entire rest of the world is telling your child about masculinity." You may even be in ways that you don't even recognize. From what toys you give them to what shows you turn on the TV for them.

What I find fascinating about this claim that we are glorifying masculinity by analyzing it is that it's the mirror image of the claim from Fox News that my class was supposedly villainizing masculinity. I think- how do I put this? Ideas about masculinity exist, they really shape people's lives, all of our lives, and I believe we can't dismantle these systems of inequality and these harmful ideas unless we acknowledge them and talk about them. As a very- what's the right word? Maybe this is a funny metaphor, but we've all studied histories of time periods that were really bad and hopefully studied them with the intent of not repeating those mistakes. It wasn't like, "Oh, this was so great." I think we can study and speak about masculinity with the intention of challenging masculinity.

Jase: It's magical thinking to just think, "If we just stop talking about this thing and stop thinking about this thing, it'll just go away." It would be saying, "I've noticed that there's this potentially harmful traits that we're taught as Americans in our culture and I'm just going to not talk about them and ignore them and hope that they go away. I don't feel like that's- that's not really a helpful thing for anybody."

Dedeker: That's really interesting because that reminds me of- I've seen some redittor going around particularly on the more conservative side of things of people making an argument of like, "We're post-racial now and so we need to stop talking about it because talking about racism is what's keeping it alive. We got to just move on and stop talking about it." I've seen people make the same argument about sexism of like, "No, now we are in a world where women have much more power and if we just keep talking about it, it's just going to keep making it worse." Which is such a weird argument.

Emily: It's like bury your head in the sand and don't think about it kind of argument.

Dedeker: It seems like that's the same thing that maybe happens here with people who are more averse to talking about masculinity, is that of like, "Well, we don't want to give any more power. Just stop putting it in the limelight or stop focusing on it and then we'll be able to fix other problems that have cropped up around it," I suppose.

Jase: As Jonathan pointed out, it's so funny that on the one side, you have people saying, "You're destroying masculinity by analyzing and talking about it," and then on the other side, you're saying, "You're glorifying it by talking about it or analyzing it at all." It is this weird- from an extreme on either side, you're essentially getting the same message, which is a little disturbing.

Emily: The idea that this is a class, I'm assuming, for young people.

Jase: This is a university class.

Emily: Maybe people in their 20s or whatever or late teens, but it's just that the idea that you are teaching a young person how to better analyze their own masculinity and analyze what it means to be a man in a good more positive light. I think that's huge and something that we still as a society don't necessarily teach people. I think possibly we're getting better at that, but to do it at a more academic level, I think it's fantastic.

Now we're going to talk about some studies related to positive masculinity and how exactly we can study that further, I guess. There was something in the Journal of Psychology of Men and Masculinities, basically, researchers, they surveyed 1,077 people about what they thought it meant to be a good man. They identified 79 potential positive masculine attributes and had its participants rate whether it was positive or whether it was typically expected of men or whether it was typically expected of women, which is interesting. Of the 79 attributes, all but three were strongly rated as positive, but more of them were expected of women, 36, than men, 32, 11 were gender-neutral. That's interesting.

Dedeker: Hang on, sorry. I need to translate that into English. There was 79 attributes that they came up with in surveying people asking them what does it mean to be a good man. All of them were positive-

Emily: Except for three.

Dedeker: - but more of those attributes were expected of women. More of these positive attributes were expected of women, 36 of them, and 32 of them of men, and then 11 of them were gender-neutral.

Emily: Correct.

Dedeker: Sorry, I just had to talk through that to understand it.

Emily: No, you're good.

Jase: By gender-neutral, it means not strongly associated with either?

Emily: Yes, exactly. This study author said that the present results suggest that some aspects of positive masculinity may reflect positive male role norms that are embedded in traditional aspects of masculinity but represent more moderate expressions of those gendered qualities.

Dedeker: What does that mean?

Emily: I know, I'm like, "What?"

Dedeker: You are the one who did this research. What does it mean?

Jase: Psychologist talk here, right? Essentially, what they're saying is that these things that they identified reflect positive male norms that are part of traditional masculinity. They're essentially saying like, "Within traditional masculinity, we've identified these things which are positive." That's also contained in that. Essentially, they're saying- they're doing that like, "What is their positive in masculinity? What does a positive expression of masculinity look like? These are what we found," and then they said that they represent more moderate expressions of these gender qualities. What's interesting about the list of stuff that they came up with is that a lot of them are kind of followed with this caveat of like in moderation or like with a good balance of this thing.

Emily: Yes, that's fascinating.

Jase: We're going to go through this list and talk about some of the things that they tried to come up with here in a little bit, but yes, I thought that was interesting.

Dedeker: Does that imply that- so they go and they find like these are what are considered to be the positive aspects of masculinity. That seems to imply that it's like, yes, inherently, there's a lot of positive things that we associate with masculinity, but it's when they go into the extreme that that's when they turn negative or that's when people perceive them to be negative, because if you are given a caveat of like this attribute but with moderation,

Jase: We'll get to them specifically in a second, rather than theorize about it right now. We have a list of these 11 things.

Dedeker: What were the three bad ones?

Jase: That's a good question too. We might talk about that a little bit later on based on a different study that did identify negative associations people have with male or females. Anyway, what I thought was interesting about this, though, is the thing that they just sort of skipped over, I think, in their conclusions here, is that they identified these 79 potential positive traits of masculinity after interviewing and surveying these people, and then when they did a study on those, they found out that actually the majority of those were actually more attributed to women than to men. That's interesting.

Dedeker: That's really fascinating.

Jase: It makes me wonder about the whole question, I think, we'll get to, which is like, why, though?

Emily: Well, and also just positivity in general. What is positive, what is good, what is bad?

Dedeker: Now we are really going down another hole.

Emily: I know. I'm sorry.

Jase: Who can say what is good and what is bad.

Emily: It almost implies, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but it almost implies that women, in general, are more positive or that they should be and that men, it doesn't really matter because they're going to do these other things and it doesn't matter if they're positive or negative, they just are and they're great. I don't know.

Jase: I don't think- it's not like they took 79 generic words, it's like they had already tried to pull this together from things that the survey participants identified as positive traits of-- Or just maybe of traits of masculinity.

Emily: More of them are expected of women. We got to look at it. We're going to take a break.

Jase: All right, we'll get to this in a second. We want to look at these 11 traits that- or 11 adaptive and healthy characteristics of masculinity that was put together based on that study we talked about before as well as many others that is this one that the positive psychology, positive masculinity paradigm, the pupupumpupum is putting forth, potentially, as these 11 positive traits that do exist within traditional masculinity. Let's just go through these. I don't want to spend a ton of time on each one, but I do think this list is interesting.

Let's just dive in here. The first one is male relational styles, which is about men developing intimacy with each other through shared activities and more action-oriented activities such as sports, video games, whatever.

Emily: It's so funny because you and your best friend, Steve, this is totally what you would do. You would sit on the couch, or even you and Eric, you would sit there and play video games and that's how y'all interact. I'm sure you do other things too, but when I think of y'all's interactions, that's what you do.

Dedeker: I know you didn't want to spend too much time on each one, but I just already want to point out that it's like these are labeled as adaptive and healthy characteristics of masculinity, and I read that male relational styles, that feels like a very neutral thing. I don't know if I look at that and I'm inherently like, "Yes, it's a good thing to bond over video games."

That's my personal opinion, but from an objective standpoint, it's hard for me to be like, "Clearly, that is a positive thing in and of itself." That just feels like that's a description. I think that's interesting.

Emily: Let's move on to the next one. Male ways of caring, expectation to care for and protect loved ones. Action empathy is the ability to take action based on seeing things from another's point of view.

Jase: Let's rebrand empathy for men. We'll call it action empathy.

Emily: That's amazing.

Dedeker: That makes sense, though. It sounds really funny, but it totally makes sense. I feel like it really hits the nail on the head of-- It's like empathy is not something you do with your feelings. It's what you do with your actions. That's the very masculine way of having empathy is, "Well, I'm going to stand up for the people that I care about or I'm going to protect everyone that I care about."

Emily: I hear that so often from my partner being like, "I want to protect you, I want to be your protector." What does that mean? Do we need protection in this day and age? Well, I guess that's also another rabbit hole in which to fall down, but still--

Jase: Yes, big question. Here's where we're getting into this idea of moderation, were it's like, on the one hand, we have words like, okay, yes, again, this is a list of things contained within more traditional masculinity that are positive. This isn't saying like, "This is what men should be or this is what we-" this is just saying, "These are the positive things that these researchers have identified." I don't even agree with all of them, but that's what they're going for here.

This one, it is that fine line between, what's the difference between action empathy and I want to protect you, which actually means control you or belittle you or feel like I'm somehow superior to you and so you need my protection. It's that moderation thing. That's actually my issue with a lot of this list, is a lot of it's like, there's so many caveats that need to go with.

Emily: The next one is generative fatherhood. Good fathers, what's that? No, I'm kidding. They're out there. A lot of you out there are good fathers, I'm sure. Or parents, foster positive emotional, educational, intellectual and social growth and efforts to lead the next generation toward a better life.

Dedeker: All of these things are turning into an action movie. I love it.

Emily: No, but of course, it's written that way.

Jase: You've got to brand it that way.

Emily: Maybe that's telling.

Jase: By the way, what we're reading after these are kind of my summaries pulling little sections from their very, very long 21 page chapter on this.

Dedeker: This is another one where I'm like, okay, great. Yes, generative fatherhood, but this also feels like a more neutral trade of like, this seems like what any parent regardless of their gender would want to do for their children.

Jase: Again, I think the idea is, it's about what are positive things that we can find within traditional masculinity. Not to say this is something uniquely masculine, and I think that's part of the challenge because I had the same issue where I was like, "You are just described to being a good parent. How's that masculine?" It's more just like, "Hey, this is the thing contained within that."

Dedeker: That we can associate. Okay. Got it. All right. Now I'll put on that lens a little bit more. Not just give the same feedback with every single one on this list. Next one is male self-reliance.

Emily: See, I hear this one a lot in terms of masculine traits, that I'm self-reliant and that's a masculine quality.

Dedeker: The idea that- this one also comes to the caveat of provided said masculine person is able to take input from others, but ultimately uses his own resources to confront life's challenges including how he can use his own self-reliance to help other people in need, and I guess employ some more of that action empathy that I've heard so much about.

Jase: I do feel like this one, like Emily said, this is one that, for me, I think gets associated more in the like, "Yes, we think of this one specifically for men." I don't think that's necessarily correct, and that's actually what bothered me a little bit about it being included in this list, is that- I guess it worries me when you include some of these things in a list about masculinity because it feels like, does that mean that other people don't have this? I know that--

Dedeker: Well, I will say, I will drop into that conversation that it's like, okay, maybe we associate self-reliance with masculinity, but we're also living in a culture where it is just straight-up easier for a man to be self-reliant. It's easier for a man to live alone. It's easier for a man to support himself on his higher income. The income that's going to be higher than what a solo woman is going to get, so it becomes a little bit chicken and egg, I feel.

Jase: Yes.

Emily: That's interesting, yes.

Dedeker: Do we associate self-reliance with masculinity because it's just an easier pathway to self-reliance for most men?

Jase: Something that they didn't- I think we might get to a little bit more later, but that specifically being employed has been shown in studies to be a huge factor in terms of how a man feels about his own masculinity. I think there's also kind of a dark side to this one that whenever you're not employed or if you're not able to be self-reliant, it's like, "Now I'm not a man. I'm less than." This one is one that I'm just a little bit cautious about.

Dedeker: Related to that, the next one is the worker-provider tradition of men. Working helps him feel like a man, gives a sense of purpose and meaning, and central to a male identity and self-esteem. That makes sense. I like to believe that that's changing a little bit, but I think it's still . Those roots run deep, though.

Emily: Provider, for sure, I hear a lot.

Jase: I remember years ago, I was in a relationship at a time when I was super broke and really struggling financially. I was in a relationship with a woman who was doing much better than me. It was like a constant challenge for me, an emotional challenge for me to be able to accept her paying for things, and her generosity. She was very generous, and I'm very grateful to her, but it was really challenging. I was aware of it at the time being like, "I'm aware that I'm thinking of this in a very gendered way that's not necessarily true or healthy or anything." It was still a challenge, even knowing that because this is so ingrained in us.

Dedeker: Kind of related to your story that you showed, Emily, about your partner being like, "I want to protect you. I want to be a protector." I had a partner once specifically who was like, "I want to be a provider."

Emily: Yes. Totally. I hear that, too.

Dedeker: I remember hearing that like it made sense. It totally made sense. I'm like, "It makes sense that you'd want to be a provider." Then hearing him say it for some reason was really weird to me. Provider, it's not a job title. It's kind of an archetype, I guess. I don't know. It's just kind of funny to me.

Emily: It's a state of being.

Dedeker: State of being.

Dedeker: I'm like, "To be a provider, does that mean that I have to be provided for, for instance?" I think what generated that question for me, it was like, "Could I also be more self-reliant?" I don't know. It was funny to think about at the time.

Jase: The next one that maybe goes a little bit related to that is number six, men's respect for women. This is refraining from violence against women and actively challenging norms and other men who are sexist or violent and sharing in parenting responsibilities and recognizing the important contributions of both mother and father. Again, it was a little bit like, "Don't be so gendered about the way you approach your family." I guess I get it that they're trying to look for, "Well, within traditional masculinity there is this respect for women," but I think it can also be problematic because it leads us to the whole chivalry thing.

Yes, chivalry might sound well and good if you don't think about it too hard, but then it is based on this idea that women can't take care of themselves or they're less than or that you have to provide for them and be the one to set the rules, and they can't function without you.

Dedeker: Okay, but if we're in this new prupupumpum paradigm--

Jase: Pupupupum.

Emily: Prupupumpum. Sorry. All of a sudden, it became carol of the drums.

Dedeker: Gosh. What am I even trying to say? Basically, this idea of, if we flip things on their head and it's like we associate a man who is very respectful of women as more of a man, we see him as more of a man, and we see that as more of a good thing, potentially.

Jase: Yes. That could be good. I could get behind that.

Dedeker: I'm just trying to understand.

Jase: No, that's great. The next one is male, courage, daring and risk-taking. Facing peril to protect loved ones. It is like an action movie, you're right.

Emily: Seriously.

Jase: Doing dangerous jobs that need doing.

Emily: Like jumping out of an airplane.

Jase: Pushing yourself to the limit in athletic competitions.

Emily: What? How is that going to do anything? I guess just it's cool.

Jase: Then here's the fun caveat with this. It's like, but also the ability to distinguish between sensible risks and reckless ones.

Dedeker: I like that.

Jase: It's good, I guess, but it has to have this caveat.

Emily: My mother used to tell me I wasn't a big enough risk-taker, which I think is complete bullshit.

Jase: Interesting.

Emily: She used to be like, "I'm such a risk-taker. You're not." I'm like, "Wow."

Dedeker: Geez, mom.

Emily: I know. I don't think it is at all. I live in Los Angeles, damn it.

Jase: That's a big risk right there.

Emily: Exactly, but that's interesting that men are supposed to be risk-takers. I guess, yes, they go into a high-powered job and throw their money around or whatever. I don't know. I'm just trying to think what the old idea of women would mean.

Jase: It makes me think specifically of military service. That's the association I think with this. It's like, "Yes, men are the ones who we send to the front lines." There's a whole lot of stuff involved in that, too, that's potentially problematic, but again, I guess we're trying to look for, within traditional masculinity, what could we find that's positive. I guess this. I still don't know. I don't know. It's weird. It's challenging to me to just put all of that into men. Maybe we'll talk about this a little bit later, but when it comes to athletic competition and things like that.

To associate that with men feels weird because I know athletic women who could run laps around most men, who aren't Olympic athletes. It's like we have this weird idea that that's what men are, when it's just it's more individual.

Emily: Yes, totally. All right. Let's move on to the next one. Number eight is group orientation of boys and men. Not to be confused with Boyz II Men, the little known group now.

Jase: It's a little known, gosh.

Emily: Sorry. No, I'm kidding. They're very famous. Tend to value groups and do more group activities as opposed to more dyadic- Did I say that right?

Jase: Yes.

Emily: - activities that women engage in.

Jase: This is interesting.

Dedeker: Here's the thing. I'm going to give my same feedback of this seems like just a neutral observation. I feel like it's chicken and egg here. Are men more inclined toward group-orientated activities because that's an inherited thing or is it because there's more consequences for being perceived to be too close to another man within a dyad.

Jase: I think that's a great question.

Emily: That's interesting.

Dedeker: That's why it's safer if it's six of us going out to the movies as opposed to two of us just going out to the movies.

Jase: Just me and one guy friend, but then everyone's going to treat us weird.

Dedeker: Then we have to sit with a seat in the middle between us. I guess that's a thing that I've heard some men take part in.

Jase: Really?

Dedeker: Yes.

Jase: I'm not familiar with that one.

Dedeker: I've had some male friends tell me about if they're going to the movies with just one other guy friend, you put a seat in between the two of you. Provided there's room in the theater for that.

Jase: I suppose.

Emily: Interesting. Groups and do more group activities. I am wondering what are those group activities of which they speak.

Jase: The examples they give is athletic teams, teams like the boy scouts or work crews or social groups.

Dedeker: Women can go to brunch together and get their nails done and stuff. I don't know. Just home together, and it is not weird.

Jase: It does beg the question of, is there something in our society that limits women from doing more social activities. Do we train them not to or is it just that we've taught men to not hang out one-on-one with other men?

Emily: Interesting.

Jase: Those are both interesting questions that we don't have answers to right now.

Emily: The next one is male forms of service, mentoring and creating male charity groups like the Shriners or 100 Black Men of America. These are great. I have heard of men going and mentoring at groups like these, and it does seem rather masculine, but I think, again, those are in these good ways with the intention of spreading positive masculinity to young people and to the masses, which is really, really good. What, Dedeker?

Dedeker: See, it just makes me think of the Moose Lodge, Elk's Lodge, whatever other kind of animal, which to me, I realize this is probably very inaccurate. I have not read up on the Moose Lodge or the Elk's Lodge or other groups such as this because I never thought that they applied to me. I just

perceive them as boys' clubs to get away from the freakin' wife and kids at home.

Jase: Well, I think that, that is my impression of the Elks Lodge, too, which I think is why they didn't give that one as an example in this.

Emily: I mean, did you see that episode of John Oliver where all of the guys on Father's Day, they were asking, "What do you want for Father's Day?" Every single one of them were like, "I want time to myself to sit there, play video games, or watch TV in a dark room by myself away from the kids and the wife for like an hour."

Dedeker: Leave me the fuck alone. I want to forget that I'm a father.

Emily: Exactly. It was like, "Yes." Good Lord. Wow.

Dedeker: I don't know. I think I've heard plenty of women, specifically around Mother's Day give similar things like-

Emily: Please get the hell away from me.

Dedeker: -I want someone else to clean the bathroom. I want someone else to put the kids to bed. I want no one to come bother me. To be fair, I think women get some of that, too.

Jase: I think that's maybe more just parenthood in general. It's like you want time to yourself, and you don't ever get it.

Emily: Yes. I guess that makes sense. Fascinating.

Jase: All right. Last two.

Dedeker: Right. Last two. Men's use of humor. This is interesting. Humor to build intimacy and friendships as well as using it to cope with stress and illness. Now, I will say yes. I will say that this is also I think a larger systemic thing where men have been allowed to be humorous more so than women have. Because--

Emily: Yes. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel show is the first woman who was a standup comedian, but you do think of stand-up comedy as a boys' club.

Jase: Right.

Dedeker: Yes. Again, this topic is just generating so many other topics to go down the rabbit hole on. But I also read a study once, where they were saying definitions of whether someone has a good sense of humor or not is different between men and women, that we define a man with a good sense of humor as someone who can make people laugh. We define a woman with a good sense of humor as a woman who laughs at the man's jokes, essentially. If a woman is the one making the jokes, we're less likely to say that she has a good sense of humor.

Emily: I think I'm very funny.

Jase: Considering how much we lose our shit laughing at Emily's jokes, I think-- We're getting away from that. We have a good sense of humor.

Emily: That means you all have a good sense of humor.

Dedeker: Yes, but that's true. I guess, we do tend to associate that it's like, well, the funny ones, the class clown is going to be a man.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: For sure, yes. It is funny because I feel like my little sister is very much the class clown archetype, or at least was when she was younger.

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: But we don't reward women and girls for that, the way that we tend to reward men.

Jase: I always kind of rolled my eyes at those boys in class, so maybe I don't identify with that one. But yes, I hear what you're saying.

Dedeker: The last one is male heroism. The tradition of using heroic actions to serve others. It looks like in the study, they mention people like Lincoln, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Harvey Milk, as examples. Yes, those are some heroes. Those are some heroic men.

Emily: When I looked down at those list for a moment, I thought that it said, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I was like, "I mean-- yes." Because it was just a lot of Ms, but yes. Goodness. But yes, women are heroic too. Look at Harriet Tubman, so many people.

Jase: I guess, again, I had to remind myself over and over again, and I find all of us going here, is the point of this list isn't to say these are things that are uniquely masculine; but that these are things that still fit with traditional masculinity, but that are positive. There it is ,for what it’s worth. The funny thing is in this, after the pages where they went through this list, there was then a couple pages of caveats to all of it-

Dedeker: Jeez.

Emily: Wow. Interesting.

Jase: -such as a lot of the stuff that we've been saying, that we've been pointing out to. I think this is still a field that can use some work. It'll be interesting to see how it develops over time. I think, specifically in positive psychology, the benefit of it is seen from the fact that-- Positive psychology is about developing what they call interventions which are things to do, like the thing we've talked about before of writing down three things that went well today, and why. That's an intervention. That's the term for that type of thing. It's a thing you can do to try to get a certain result, to try to move away from the negative results and toward the positive ones.

That in positive psychology, what you study is can we then make interventions out of this, and are those effective? Are those measurably effective? I think this will be interesting to see where they're able to go with this. If there's ways to do that, I would hope, in a way, that doesn't immediately foster as much like, "You're destroying masculinity," and as much resistance from a large segment of the population. That would be my hope, I guess for this. Speaking of helping men, this question of what can be done to help masculine-identified people.

Dedeker: Before you even go further, I want to ask more about the question itself which is helping. What does helping mean?

Jase: Because they're self-reliant. They don't need our help.

Emily: Well, no, okay.

Jase: I'm sorry. I'm joking.

Dedeker: They don't need our help. No, my question is does that entail providing new models of masculinity? Does it entail taking a list like this of, "Hey, here are some of the positive traits to be found in traditional masculinity. Here's what it may look like if some of these get out of hand or too extreme." Is it creating more of a dialogue around that of, "No, we can embrace masculinity as it is. We just got to start making this distinction between what’s a healthier range, and what’s an extreme range."? Is it encouraging masculine-identified people to embrace more femininity? Or is it all of the above? Maybe my question's a little bit confusing. But I just really want to drill into what does helping mean?

Jase: Yes. I think that question is the question that I think people are trying to answer, and that is something that I personally think about a lot. I'm like what is the answer? What can we be doing? I mean, like with everything, it's probably a mix of all of those. But I think an interesting thought that I've had is if we think about this list of traits; in all these studies, they're always looking at traits. Do people view this as more masculine or more feminine? Do people view this as positive or negative? That sort of thing. The way that the studies tend to identify whether something is masculine or feminine is simply by asking people, be like, "Do you see this more as one or the other?" Or looking at how they use it, is this word used more?

Dedeker: Because it's a construct.

Jase: Well, yes. I think that's the interesting thing is that I keep asking myself the question. The first question is why are these associated with gender at all? Why is this list--? Even this list of 11 things that we were like a lot of these aren't specifically masculine. If you look at other lists of masculine traits, positive masculine traits, why is it necessarily that something like being a provider has to go along with the idea of also being more physically aggressive. Or why does being honorable have to be associated with being a leader? You know what I mean?

We associate these things together because we think of them as masculine traits. Then on the list of feminine traits-- Again, these are from various studies, I just kind of made lists here of these things. It's like why do we necessarily have to associate beauty with also being compassionate? Why are those both considered feminine traits? Or why is caring and multitasking both considered feminine traits? It's just like why? What if they were different? What if we lived in this alternate universe where some of these traits were swippy swapped around--?

Emily: Swippy swappy.

Jase: You know what I mean? If they were the sort of thing, where it's like we can't separate which traits have to go together and which ones don't. Then I guess the question of if you thought of it more à la carte, as opposed to if I take these feminine traits, it means I'm not masculine anymore. But instead, if you're like let me just look at all the options on the menu and pick the ones that will make me the best person.

Emily: Isn't that what we tell people to do in relationships in general? Same kind of thing.

Jase: Right. It all comes together here.

Emily: Yes, indeed. That's the point here. There was this really amazing website that you showed us. Go to it, everyone, if you want to see just an exquisite display of how integrated this could be--

Jase: A well-formatted research website.

Emily: Yes. Exactly. About words, and how they are correlated to either men or women and by how much using really cool graphics.

Jase: Yes, and that's at pewsocialtrends-- That's Pew, like P-E-W, like .


Jase: pewsocialtrends.org.

Dedeker: Hang on. Before you dive into this, just a little bit too long url. We can drop in the

show notes.

Jase: Yes, I'll drop it in the show notes. I was just going to say it's called Strong Men, Caring Women. If you just want to google it, it's--

Emily: pewsocialtrends.org/interactives/strong-men- --

Jase: That's what we're trying to avoid.

Dedeker: No. No. No. We were trying to avoid this.

Jase: Strong Men, Caring Women pewsocialtrends. Look it up.

Emily: Cool. On this little interactive website, it talked about descriptors, descriptors used for men, for women and then more neutral ones.

Jase: How positive and negative they are.

Emily: How positive or negative. Yes. Among those, there were some descriptors used only for men. The positive descriptors included 'protective, provider, and honorable', which kind of go along with the list that we read earlier. Then negative, 'violent, emotional', which is interesting, 'emotional', 'sexism, abusive, feeling and vulnerable'. 'Feeling' that's a negative one and 'emotional'? And 'vulnerable'.

Jase: It's interesting that feeling and emotional were both used primarily to describe men in a negative way which was surprising to me.

Dedeker: I see that that implies two different things. You could see it as men are supposed to be cut off from their emotions and not driven by their emotions. So an emotional man is inherently a negative man or a negatively-perceived man.

Emily: Not a man, yes.

Dedeker: Or is it then when we think emotional man, the only emotion that we really associate with men is anger-

Jase: That's an interesting--

Dedeker: -so emotional comes to mean actually angry man as opposed to a sad man or a happy man or whatever it is. That's why it gets the negative association, I wonder.

Jase: Yes. If you think that when men get emotional, often the only way they feel they can express it is anger, I could see thinking, well, an emotional man is a dangerous man.

Dedeker: Yes because that's where my head goes to-

Jase: That's interesting.

Dedeker: -is that often if I think of the image of an emotional man, with the exception of Jase, I think of an angry dude who's out of control and throwing a fit.

Jase: That's interesting. I hadn't even considered that, but that makes a lot of sense.

Emily: Jase, you're just a Cancer, and you're just emotional.

Dedeker: It's true, and we love him for it. Yeah. So let's talk about the descriptors that was used only for women. The positive descriptive words we're 'multitasking'.

Emily: We're all going on shake our head at that one.

Dedeker: If I could roll my eyes any harder. 'Multitasking, brain, beautiful'.

Emily: Just brain.

Jase: Just brain.

Emily: Not brainy, just brain.

Dedeker: 'Brain, beautiful, maternal'. There was actually a neutral descriptor which was 'independent'. That's really interesting. 'Independent' kind of split the difference between these two. The negative descriptors for women were 'dependent, outspoken and, promiscuous'.

Emily: Of course.

Dedeker: Natch.

Jase: This is just a summary here, but there were actually hundreds of words in this study. But these are some of the standouts that they pointed out here.

Emily: The big ones.

Jase: 'Caring and compassionate' were neutral or negative for men but were positive for women. Those were interesting, too, that we don't view those- or at least the people in this study, which was a large study- tended to view those as positive traits for women but more negative for men. On the flip side of that, the word 'strong' was viewed neutral for women or about fifty-fifty. People thought it was a good thing or a bad thing. For men, strong was almost always a positive term.

Basically, what I did here, like we were talking about earlier, is I just put these together, both the positives and negatives of this list. We just went and said well, what if it was this à la carte menu, where we got to pick and choose. Like you were both teasing me earlier about being emotional and saying it's because I'm a Cancer and making that sort of joke. The truth is, though, that it's not because I wasn't for a long time.

Emily: You weren't a Cancer?

Jase: I wasn't emotional.

Also, I became a Cancer.

Emily: My birthday suddenly changed.

Jase: My birthday changed. We realized we haven't factored in leap years and .

Emily: Dang it. That's not true.

Jase: Just that I wasn't emotional at all. I remember growing up, noticing at one point, that I cried once a year. That was it. This was in high school and college, I sort of--

Emily: Now, you cry once a day. No, I'm just kidding, not quite.

Dedeker: Jase, we're not teasing you. I love it, personally.

Emily: No, it's great. It's good. It's impressive.

Jase: What I'm getting at, though, is that this was something that I did have to learn. I, essentially, at one point was presented with the idea that this is a trait that you can do, and you can have if you want. Not crying all the time, but being able to connect emotionally, being able to feel emotions, and not wall everything off until it spills over in anger or something like that.

Emily: Was there a moment of awakening of that for you?

Jase: It was a little bit more of a gradual process for me. But specifically, Steve Eastin's acting class was what taught me ways to go about doing that. That was actually really a significant time in my life of learning how to have some feelings. Then there were also some physical work that I had done for my sciatica that I think also unlocked a little bit more connection to my physical feeling of emotions. It was this idea of hey, this is a trait I would like to have, and I'm not going to say I can't because I'm a man. But I'm going to have this trait, so why don't I pull some of that. Then kind of looking at it and going here's a trait that I don't think is so great about men which is tending toward violence. It's like okay, how about I try pruning that one a little bit and minimizing this.

I think men who get really defensive about any sort of analysis of gender roles or any sort of challenging of traditional masculinity, I want to be like why would you want to limit yourself to only being able to be good at these things and having to have these potentially negative traits? Even if you saw them all as positive, even if you saw being sexist and violent as positive traits, which we have some other issues to talk about. Even if you did, you're still saying why limit yourself? Why be like these are the only things I can be good at. It feels like a cop-out. It's like, well, I'm off the hook for doing any work on myself, maybe, because I can't. Or those things aren't for me. I don't have to do those. I don't know. It just seems like if you really want to empower people say, "Hey. You get to choose from the whole menu here. You get to custom make the person that you are."

Emily: I like that idea. That's lovely.

Dedeker: Yes, I like that image a lot. Should I bring us to some closing thoughts, closing prayer, as it were?

Jase: Yes. I started going into those already.

Dedeker: Maybe you're listening to this, and maybe your sex or your gender is a really important part of your identity, and how you function day-to-day, or maybe it's not, or maybe it's fluid. Maybe it's something you have a bunch of questions about, or that you're actively questioning right now. Any other case, especially if you are cisgender, learning to hold on to that identity less tightly or maybe less rigidly, it can not only lead to a healthier look at yourself, but it can sometimes make you feel like you can tap into the superpowers of being able to change and do things. I'm just going to read what's written here. "And do things that mere mortal men cannot." I'm assuming you said mortal men intentionally there?

Jase: I was just sort of being cheeky. But also, I feel like that's in this à la carte thing. It's sort of if you're a man who doesn't need to tie your whole identity to whether or not you live up to these certain arbitrary traits, it can be like a superpower. Where, for example- this is terrible, but it still exists- but calling another man a sissy or saying that he's gay, or something to mean that you're weak, or that you're somehow less than because of something that you did. I know that those sorts of 'insults' are the things that can really hurt guys, that a lot of men are very upset if someone says something like that to them.

I think that letting your grip on masculinity be a little looser, where even if you're still like, "Yes, this is still my identity," but it's not that white-knuckle, "God, I have to hold onto it, so someone can't take it from me." Someone can say something like that to you, and it's just like, "Huh. All right." It's like a superpower. It's like you gain this invulnerability. And that's just one small example, but that mere mortal men cannot.

Emily: Yes, and as you said as well, all of those things that we talked about today- including things that are inherently, or that people think of as inherently masculine or inherently feminine- instead of just sticking those into boxes and saying that's all that they are, and that's who they are for; instead, if we can just kind of empower people to really develop as many of all of those traits as possible and minimize the negative ones in addition or at least find a balance between all of those. When I think of some of the best people in my life, they are those who blur those lines of like what traditional anything means.

Jase: I love that, yes.

Emily: Just, they tend to be good people in a sense of what I think of a good person as being is.

Jase: Correct.

Emily: That they don't embody, necessarily, like, oh, they're a woman, so they're very nurturing, and that means they're a good woman. Or they're a guy, and they're really an amazing provider, so they're a good guy. But rather just that they're a good person, and they can embody all of those things.

Jase: Yes, maybe even like looking at it of like which ones are right for you-

Emily: Yes, absolutely.

Jase: -rather than based on the gender that you identify with. Just like which of these traits work for me? Which of these traits do I think make the best me? For those of you who are interested in the way that we teach this to children, I do have a little recommendation, and that is Jonathan Branfman who we played a little bit of earlier, and who we're going to hear a little bit more from in the bonus content. With a co-writer, he put together a children's book called You Be You! The Kid's Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family.

It's a book that helps kids seven to 12 years old understand LGBTQIA diversity plus discrimination, privilege, and allyship. You can find that more info about it at jonathanbranfman.com. That's B-R-A-N-F-M-A-N. Like I said, you can hear more of him in our bonus content for this. The book's been translated into a zillion languages.

Emily: That's great.

Jase: Even if English is not your first language, I personally have a copy of it in English, and I have a copy in Japanese. But it's also published in a ton of other languages. Definitely worth checking out. I highly recommend it.