Monday, May 11, 2015

The Proposed White House Council on Boys and Men

One facet of today's activism for equality between men and women is the campaign to establish a White House Council on Boys and Men. Warren Farrell, Ph.D., author of the seminal Myth of Male Power (1993) and Father and Child Reunion (2001) (among other works) is leading the formation of this council, to function in a presidential advisory capacity. It remains to be seen whether any major presidential candidate -- let alone any presidential administration -- will adopt this Council, as its eye is firmly planted on the wellbeing of the other half of society (since the White House currently has its Council on Girls and Women already set up). Since I'm not a part of the Council myself, I'll let Dr. Farrell do the explaining:

As Dr. Farrell recalls his few moments with President Johnson, I recall my relatively brief interview face to face with Dr. Farrell himself, seated in the very living room pictured in the video above, five years ago this month.

Should this campaign be about a competition between girls and women vs. boys and men? Obviously, no! And that's precisely why this proposal deserves more than a fair hearing. According to the executive summary on Council's web page:

"The Commission identifies problems at a crisis level in five areas: education, emotional health, physical health, father involvement and work."

That's right -- CRISIS LEVEL. Not decline, not areas of concern. But a crisis.
Now men's right's activism in general, and the less abrasive-sounding "gender equity movement" has disproportionally focused on father's rights (i.e., involvement) for the last 30 to 40 years. Campaigning against men paying alimony and child support to former wives who essentially "own" the children and have various levels of legal sanction to deny access to the fathers (thus leading to fatherlessness) has long been the movement's thrust. But it has not gained its well-deserved attention, by way of media attention and legal reform, in the decades that date rape, sexual harassment, and wage gaps were presumably weighing against women, and were all the craze for Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams (and a vast array of other major media and cultural figures). But even as men's activism (which seemingly hasn't quite gained the visibility in the U.S. that it has elsewhere in the Anglosphere) still heavily places its efforts into lobbying for shared custodial rights for fathers -- still a much unresolved issue -- decay in the lots of boys and men has taken shape in the other major life areas as well.

Given what has become this blog's populist bent, I'm going to hone in on the Council's fifth component, work, a lengthy excerpt enumerated on the Council's web page (and mostly listed below). Any of my further comments will be in italics at the bottom.
Item. One of every five men 25 to 54 isn’t working.

Item. Half of African-American young men ages 20-24 is jobless.

Item. Many of the jobs lost in the recession (e.g., manufacturing, construction) aren’t coming back.

The recession was dubbed a “mancession” because 78% of jobs lost were held by men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men’s unemployment rate in September 2010 was 22% higher than women’s—one of the largest gaps since the government began collecting such data. And employment for minority men and male blue-collar workers without a college education has been dropping dramatically.

The future does not bode well for men’s employment. While women are more likely to hold jobs in stable sectors that are more recession-proof, like health and education (averaging 75% women), men are more likely to hold jobs in sectors that are outsourced overseas—such as computer technology and Internet-based jobs. In the past, the problem was a man’s job going nowhere; in the future, the problem is men’s jobs going elsewhere.

The good news is that the fields women dominate are in growth mode: healthcare and social assistance are expected to grow by 24%; employment in public and private educational services is anticipated to grow by 12%. The bad news is that the fields men dominate are either in decline or especially vulnerable to recessions—such as construction and manufacturing.

Theoretically, some would say it should make no difference whether a woman or man earns the family’s money. In reality, though, few women choose husbands reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus in the unemployment line. A man with little earning potential is less likely to find a wife, more likely to find himself divorced, and, once divorced, more likely to feel disconnected from his children. And as mentioned above, unemployed men commit suicide at twice the rate of employed men. An unemployed man is everyone’s loss. (emphasis mine)

Making Work Work: the Council’s Role

Those of our sons who might formerly have prepared for assembly line work are finding their skills are replaced not only by outsourcing but also by automation. In areas as diverse as advanced medical devices to wind turbines, a White House Council on Boys and Men can help these boys prepare instead for the type of demand employers need for the future: “people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.” A first step is restoring vocation to education.

Restoring Vocation to Education. The decrease in vocational and technical education in high schools has left many boys who are less academically inclined feeling there is nothing they are good at. With no sense of purpose, and low self-esteem, they drop out of school—and life.

Two new Obama Administration initiatives look promising: the High Growth Job Training Initiative, which is designed to prepare more people for success in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, biotechnology, energy, geospatial technology and automotive; and the Green Career-Technical Programs initiative, a five-state pilot program that will prepare students for careers in wind and solar energy, transportation, and waste management.

The Council would co-ordinate these new efforts with the best of current programs such as The Green Hounds Academy at California’s Atascadero High School that prepares students for sustainability careers (while building their skills in math, science, and technology) and that of the Southern Regional Education Board’s Technology Centers That Work, where students learn academics in the context of a technology-centric career of a student’s choice.

Study Successes in Other Countries.

Item. In Japan, 23% of high school graduates study at vocational schools; 99.6% of them find employment after graduation.

Japan’s vocational schools are part of its higher education system, but many of its students enter the program without having completed high school.

Finland and Germany have also developed models that bear examining. In Finland, 38% of students go to vocational school after completing their compulsory education (usually around age 17).

More than two million German students attend its vocational schools. Germany’s program is distinctive in that students spend part of the week in school and part in an apprenticeship. It is a joint effort of government, unions, companies, and chambers of commerce. Students are paid a modest stipend.

The Council’s review of such programs might focus on creating a blueprint for their adaptation to U.S. culture and needs.

Expanding the Concept of Man’s Work. As the nation shifts from a manufacturing to a service/knowledge economy, health and education are growing sectors. Just as we have supported our daughters to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, a White House Council can co-ordinate efforts to prepare boys in what might be called HE (health and education) careers (instead of health and education being, in effect, “she” careers). Preparing our sons to be elementary school teachers, for example, serves four purposes: our children get a balance of male and female teachers; our sons are trained for more stable careers; our sons our trained for careers giving them more preparation to raise children; our children’s families will have more confidence to exercise the flexibility of a dad raising children.

Just as “man’s work” now includes more women as a result of pro-active efforts like scholarships for women in math, science and technology, so integrating men into female- dominated fields such as nursing and social work, may require parallel efforts for boys and men. The Council might devote special attention to fields such as social work in which the very mission of the profession—helping families—requires equal sensitivity to both genders. A starting place would be the balancing of social work programs with equal numbers of men— especially men with leadership experience in the communities they will be serving.

“Team executive positions.” “Men’s work” was built on the male-as-sole-breadwinner model in which the most successful men, whether CEOs or MDs, had responsibilities they fulfilled for to up to 90-hour weeks. Increasingly men want more time with their family, and many companies see that a good home life benefits work life. Companies that value these men— and their female equivalents— but that also want to compete globally, will need to re-invent the infrastructure of a top-level-executive position. For example, instead of one person handling global demands 24/7 until, as the Japanese say, he or she experiences “Karoshi” (“death by overwork”), the executive position is shared by a team of men and women, allowing each individual to work fewer hours but the team to be “on it” globally 24/7, using technology to communicate on selected overlapping hours. Such innovations would need the support of educational changes such as MBA courses in “teamwork training” educating teams to co- ordinate communication about one function.

Suicide Prevention. Whether in a hazardous job or a management position, when a man is in fear of losing his job he is often in fear of a domino effect—a job loss leading to the loss of his wife’s respect to the loss of his marriage and potentially the ability to see his children. When combined with his propensity to suppress these feelings rather than express them, it is apparent why unemployed men commit suicide at twice the rate of employed men. A White House Council can identify the best programs in progress, such as Working Minds, to, for example, expand their mission to help MBA programs teach future managers to look under men’s masks to discover the symptoms of suicide; work with Human Resource Divisions to detect the signs of depression and suicide; work with unemployment agencies to know how to handle signs of depression and suicide among unemployed men; and identify co-operative ventures with churches to help men have a safe haven and hope.

Communications Skills Programs at Work. Similar to the way in which male-dominated work places created Human Resources (HR) divisions to maximize women’s potential, in the female-dominated HE (Health and Education) fields, Human Resource divisions can assist women to maximize men’s potential. This is long overdue since the responsibilities of men in the workplace over centuries evolved methods of accountability (e.g., hierarchies) and communicating (sport analogies; sexual jokes as ice-breakers; wit-covered put-downs to test for humility) that, even when they served a purpose, were never properly articulated to women. The Council can provide leadership for the next generation’s HR mandate to include communicating what men didn’t: women can’t hear what men don’t say.

Beyond gender dialogue is the need for both sexes to be better trained in the handling of feedback that is not positive, so fewer workers feel they are “walking on eggshells,” and there is less need for gossip as a substitute for communication. The more complex communication becomes, the nation that is the pioneer of listening to criticism non-defensively will have a global advantage.

Examining Boys’ Motivation to Work. A White House Council would examine why young men are pulling back from the very essence of what used to be male: passionate motivation to succeed at work, school and life.

Coordinate with Women. Since families that succeed in the future will be more likely to have both our sons and daughters able to “row on both sides of the boat” (both sexes able to raise money and raise children) there is a need to co-ordinate the efforts on behalf of girls and women with the efforts of this Council on behalf of boys and men. This includes going beyond government programs, and finding the best of what exists rather than re-inventing the wheel. For example, the program Are You Man Enough to Be a Nurse? attempts to increase the number of male nurses; and programs at IBM and Deloitte & Touche help both genders communicate...

Conclusion: the Future of our Sons and their Work

Nothing has defined men more than work. Nothing has confined men more than work. Nothing has made men more worthy of women than work. And nothing has made men’s parents more proud than their son’s success at work. Men’s work has created monuments to men. Men’s work has created straight-jackets for men.

Perhaps the most significant human accomplishment in the U.S. during the past half-century is our new awareness that defining women in one way left women confined to one way. For women, that “one way” was being a mother. We replaced that with an era of multi-option women: married women with children had more permission to work full-time; be a mom full- time; or do some combination of both. Yet one of our great accomplishments has been to retain the value of mothering, expand its flexibility (child care at work), and use technology to support women’s flexibility.

Now it is time for the parallel process to take place for our sons. Replacing the era of the one- option man (being valued only if he works full-time) with an era of multi-option men: for example, if our son is married with children, demonstrating respect if he: works full-time; fathers full-time; or does some combination of both.

One of the great accomplishments of the next era must be to retain the high value of men as workers, and also use technology to support men’s flexibility as workers.

A Council would explore the impact of imparting to our sons that pay is not about power, but that controlling his life is real power. It would help parents, mentors and teachers to guide our sons to consider, prior to our son choosing a career, that few men say on their death bed “I wish I spent more time at work;” and few of their children will go to a psychologist saying “I didn’t get enough money from my dad.” The gift of giving our sons a glimpse of life’s blueprint is the gift of fewer male mid-life crises and more life long marriages; fewer alcoholic dads, and more devoted dads.

Being a great man, like being a great woman, is creating the work-life balance that is appropriate to his personality, cognizant of the trade-offs of each decision, and true to the commitments he makes as he takes the journey from boy to man.
NOTE: These concepts and areas will be greatly expounded upon in my own male-female/men's rights book (with my own insights). Over the years, Dr. Farrell has pointed to discrimination against men in areas of education and health care -- both generally female-dominated. I believe this discrimination may be expanding into other fields as well, as human resources agents are mostly women and see their fellow females as more obedient to orders, likely to follow rules, etc. Men have always been more likely to be more pioneering, which can cause trouble in today's hyper-conformist American corporate environment. As for VOC TECH: on its face, this seems to pose a contradiction. Voc tech programs are usually high school and/or apprentice-based, not so much a part of formal higher education -- and are already very male dominated in a number of technical/industrial areas. We read above that we need more voc-tech. But young men who are already in voc tech training are obviously not counted among the female-dominant four-year college population, and this is "bad" for men. Lower college matriculation is much the subject of the Council's "Component 1." (see its web page). So what gives? As broadly outlined above, this proposal would RIGHTFULLY raise voc tech education to a whole new realm, expanding it more into higher education with newer, more advanced, scientifically-based technical curricula (though perhaps not likely into a standard, four-year bachelor's degree format). Raising Voc Tech's status will likely mean diverting existing educational resources into it (hopefully away from useless college majors). If in Japan, men are expected to work and be providers, the necessary tools and framework are at their disposal. But not in female-centric America -- and that's exactly what a list like the one above demonstrates.

As David Wessel wrote in the Wall Street Journal back in May 2010:
Americans have worried for decades that the economy won't produce enough jobs. But the economy always provided. As farm jobs were eliminated by mechanization, factories hired more. As factories increased productivity and moved work offshore, more Americans got jobs in health care and other services. And the economists said to all those who had been worried about perennial, persistent unemployment: We told you so!

Yet nothing in the textbooks says that the supply and demand for workers will intersect at a wage that is socially acceptable. At the high end, demand for skilled workers and those who rely on their brains will return when the economy does. At the other end, jobs in restaurants, nursing homes and health clubs—the jobs that are hard to automate or outsource—will come back, too.

In the middle, there will be some jobs for workers without much education, for the plumbers, electricians and software technicians. But not enough to go around.

Men who in an earlier era would have been making good money on the assembly line are, and will be, working security or greeting at Wal-Mart, jobs that almost anyone can do and thus jobs that don't pay well. (emphasis mine)
I think that the Council's list (above) speaks for itself, including the item concerning boys' motivation to work (or not work). How much support is society giving to men to make a decent living? There seems to be somewhat of an emerging internal debate on this, however: Dr. Leonard Sax, author of the 2007 book, "Boys Adrift," devoted an entire chapter in his book entitled, "End Result: Failure to Launch." It was a summary of a 2006 Washington Post article he penned about male underachievement (and its echoes in pop culture), and a subsequent live chat between Dr. Sax and a number of readers: based upon his replies to many of the reader comments, it became clear that Dr. Sax believes that many young adult men (especially those who live with their parents for free past the age of 21 or so) CHOOSE the easy life, taking advantage of doting mothers who clean up and cook for them, and the fact that they no longer have to provide for women (who can attain careers and resources of their own). If these "boys" would rather play video games than do undesirable jobs (that theoretically would still provide a gainful enough living, with opportunities widely available in today's market) and be self-sufficient, as Sax postulates, wouldn't that render most of the Council's points about men and work as "excuses" for male underachievement? So men can make it working at Wal-Mart, after all? Unfortunately, Dr. Sax is on the commission for the Council on Men and Boys. Wouldn't the lack of adequate training opportunities, the discrimination, the sheer lack of gainful jobs, and sheer degradation by women objectifying men over their wallets more than suffice as explanations for men not fulfilling their potential in too many cases?

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