Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nearly 10 years ago

Nothing is new. I have been surfing the net looking to find other opinions and insight into my personal struggle with the nature of being a man, and came across a series of articles written for the Washington Post. Details after the jump. You can read the articles here . Here is the line that caught my attention "Surprisingly, although men and women agreed they should have equal work opportunities, and men said they approved of women working outside the home, large majorities of both said it would be better if women could instead stay home and just take care of the house and children." This was written in March of 1998.

Nice to know that people have been struggling with this for at least a decade. I think what it really comes down to is that many woman would like to stay home and raise the kids. So why aren't they? A couple of reasons jump out at me. First, society has placed such an emphasis on material success that two incomes have become the norm. You need both parents to be working so you can afford a nice car, and a nice house, and shiny new toys. Second, I know that if I had specnt a huge amount of time and money becoming successful in this world, it would be damn difficult to get me to give it up. Finally, I think many women feel pressure from other woman not to be "just" a mom. As if somehow they are betraying womankind by being a mom.

I am certain that there are hundreds of reasons that woman continue to work as opposed to staying home (certainly, simply having the option to work in their chosen career is a good one). However, I think society as a whole suffers for it.

I will have more on this series of articles in the next few days.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

War changes everything

It should be obvious that the times one lives in can have a tremendous impact on the worldview of any generation. Those who fought in WWII have an inherent certainty that they can handle anything. They saw themselves (rightfully so in my opinion) as the saviors of the world. They were scared, but they did it anyway. When the rest of the world was on its knees, with only the British still standing tall and free, they fought, and they won. They are the last true heroes. Then they came home, and they saw the world they had fought so hard for, shed blood for, laid down their lives for, change.

Russia went from ally to enemy in the blink of an eye. Nazi's were replaced by commies, Germany with Russia and China. Nuclear war wasn't a question of "if" but "when." They were sure that it would happen ("Duck...and cover"). The Korean war was, at best, a draw. Those who fought in Korea saw their country show weakness for the first time. They knew defeat.

Then a new level of cynicism entered the lives of the next generation After McCarthy and Nixon they felt they could no longer blindly trust in the government. Those who fought in Nam KNOW they can’t trust the government, or even their own commanding officers. They have seen their country lose a war. They have seen soldiers who risked their lives spit on and called baby killers. They saw JFK, RFK and MLK gunned down.

Today, we have seen an attack on our own soil. We saw our hunt for the killers sidetracked into a "greater war on terror" that has cost us more lives than the attack itself, while also weakening our moral stance in the worlds eyes. We have seen secret torture camps, and not-so-secret torture camps (Abu Ghraib).

We are a generation that has traded security for liberty. That has been all but abandoned by its leaders, where any man or woman who possesses real leadership ability would never subject themselves to the witch hunt that is a political campaign these days. Where a soundbite has replaced thoughtful dialog, a good haircut substitutes for solutions.

Who can we look to for guidance? For a way to live? Who are our role models? Athletes with coke-problems who beat their wives? Celebrities? Models? In all honesty Barak Obama (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I probably won't vote for due to a lack of foreign policy experience) is the first politician I have ever heard publicly state that he doesn't have all the answers. That is powerful to me. "I don't know" is often the best answer. It doesn't mean that you don't want to know the answer, it simply acknowledges that some questions deserve more than a simple easy 10 word answer.

I can always look up to my father, who served in the Air Force between Korea and 'Nam. He raised two great kids (if I do say so myself), started a successful business, and has been married to my mom for nearly half a century. But I don't know that I can have a life like his. Mom stayed home to raise us (we had a cleaning woman who helped out). She had dinner on the table when he got home, and kept us out of his hair after bad days at the office. She ran the family, so that Dad could focus on work, and providing for us (which he did very well). I can't seem to find a "wife" these days. Part of that is my own fault, as I find intelligence a turn-on. Smart woman just do it for me. However, smart women these days have great careers. My sister is a good example - partner at a law firm, husband at a hedge-fund (yeah, they're loaded). Huge house in the suburbs...and 3 kids being raised by a nanny for the most part. Don't get me wrong, my sis and her hubby are great parents. They spend as much time with the kids as they can. I just think kids need their mom around.

What do you think (hypothetical non-existent reader)? Are there woman out there who don't buy into the theory that wanting to be a mom is a cardinal sin? That are up for the challenge of raising kids full time? That are willing to run the family while the husband "brings home the bacon?"

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Why now?

So if I have been struggling with these questions, why publish a blog now? It seems silly, but it's due to a TV show. I started watching Mad Men on AMC (which you should be watching Thursdays at 10PM). It is set at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue (thus the name) in 1960. It reminds us that everyone used to smoke everywhere. That it used to be okay to have a bottle of scotch in your office, and have a drink or three in the middle of the day. That sexual harassment laws were created for a reason (but have they gone too far?). That women used to fear divorce as a fate worse than death. Perhaps most importantly, it reminded me that while many may hearken back to "the good old days," they weren't that great if you were black or Jewish or a woman.

Most important, for this blog, it reminded me that people have always struggled for meaning in their lives. During one episode, our main character (Don Draper - played with smoldering star-making power by Jon Hamm) has a friend tell him that he has, essentially, achieved the American dream. Beautiful wife, amazing job, financial security, house in the suburbs, two cute kids. He "has it all." Draper responds "Yep, this is it." It both validates the premise (that he does have it all), while at the same time destroying it (this is it?!?).

If a man could not be happy in those times, when a man really was king, what hope do I have?

Today's controversial topic tread lightly my pretties): Have sexual harassment laws done more harm than good? My answer: Yes. What was designed as a way to empower women has instead Puritanized the workplace. The perceived intent of the law, to prevent women from having to make a choice between having a job or having to sleep with their boss, has morphed into a law that attempts to prevent offending people. There is a HUGE difference between those two concepts. Making someone uncomfortable by telling a joke about boobs is not the same as telling someone "show me your boobs or you're fired."

So, how did we get here?


(Much of the following is taken from the EEOC website)

Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) provides:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer - -

... to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin[.]

Seems pretty straightforward, right? According to the Guidelines published by the EEOC, only unwelcome sexual conduct that is a term or condition of employment constitutes a violation. However, the EEOC defined two types of sexual harassment: "quid pro quo" and "hostile environment."

In determining whether harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile environment, the harasser's conduct should be evaluated from the objective standpoint of a "reasonable person." Title VII does not serve "as a vehicle for vindicating the petty slights suffered by the hypersensitive." Zabkowicz v. West Bend Co., 589 F. Supp. 780

The reasonable person standard should consider the victim's perspective and not stereotyped notions of acceptable behavior. For example, the Commission believes that a workplace in which sexual slurs, displays of "girlie" pictures, and other offensive conduct abound can constitute a hostile work environment even if many people deem it to be harmless or insignificant. Cf. Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co., 805 F.2d 611.

It should be noted that the court in Rabidue came to a different conclusion. One of the factors the court found relevant was "the lexicon of obscenity that pervaded the environment of the workplace both before and after the plaintiff's introduction into its environs, coupled with the reasonable expectations of the plaintiff upon voluntarily entering that environment." 805 F.2d at 620. Quoting the district court, the majority noted that in some work environments, "`humor and language are rough hewn and vulgar. Sexual jokes, sexual conversations, and girlie magazines may abound. Title VII was not meant to - - or can - - change this.`" Id. At 620-21. The court also considered the sexual remarks and poster at issue to have a "de minimus effect on the plaintiff's work environment when considered in the context of a society that condones and publicly features and commercially exploits open displays of written and pictorial erotica at the newsstands, on prime-time television, at the cinema, and in other public places." Id. at 622. The EEOC disagreed. "The Commission believes these factors rarely will be relevant and agrees with the dissent in Rabidue that a woman does not assume the risk of harassment by voluntarily entering an abusive, anti-female environment. "Title VII's precise purpose is to prevent such behavior and attitudes from poisoning the work environment of classes protected under the Act." 805 F.2d at 626 (Keith, J., dissenting in part and concurring in part)."


The dissent in Rabidue is now the accepted standard. Therefore fundamentally altering the nature of the workplace. Employers, faced with a fuzzy standard (YOU try and figure when a "reasonable person" would find something so offensive that it impacts their work) and liability for their supervisors actions, enforced strict new rules. No sexual jokes. No dirty (or borderline dirty) pictures. Employees are discouraged from dating (supervisors are forbidden from dating underlings). Yet it ignores a basic fact: people fuck.

We spend the vast majority of our time at work these days (at least here in America). The 40-hour workweek just doesn't exist anymore. We work harder and we work longer. If you aren't married, where are you meeting people? At work, of course. However, you are prevented and discouraged from acting on that most basic of human instincts - attraction. You think the girl (and yes, I will use girl sometimes, and not woman, and certainly not womyn) in the next cubicle is cute. Is it okay to flirt? Use innuendo? Hit on her when you are getting drinks after work with co-workers? Maybe. Maybe not. Will she think that if she doesn't laugh at your joke or smile at your innuendo that she will be ostracized from the workplace community? That is classic "hostile work environment" sexual harassment.

I am not saying that I am in favor of forcing a woman to choose between sleeping with her boss or keeping her job. I am saying that people fuck. People use foul language. In short, people are flawed. Attempting to create a workplace that is devoid of sexual energy is impossible. To pretend that men and women aren't different, aren't sexually attracted to one another, aren't looking to find someone (sexually, emotionally), is disingenuous. America has a tendency to try and wear blinders. "If we don't acknowledge it, if we legislate against it, it will go away." Bullshit. We are all trying to "get some." If you are offended by something, say something. However, just because someone is offended by something doesn't make it wrong. Why must I be governed by someone else's moral viewpoint or guideposts?

This entry has gone on far too long, so I will end it rather abruptly with this final thought:

The wages a woman earns are catching up (and in certain areas - NYC, LA - surpassing) those earned by men. A woman is no longer stuck with the choice of teacher/secretary/waitress. Are we still going to assume that a woman is so weak willed that she cannot tell the obnoxious jackass at work to get bent?

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The Quest Begins

I have been struggling, for what seems like my entire life, to find answers to what seem like simple questions on some level: What does it mean to be a man?
What am I supposed to do now?
What does it mean to be happy?
Is America better off now than it was in the past?
What can I learn from what has come before?
Why can't I ask for, and enjoy, what I truly want sexually?
Is it wrong to want a wife (meaning a stay at home mom who has dinner on the table)?

Just to give you a sense of my own cowardice, I haven't told anyone I know that I am writing this. I want a place where I can muse and ponder and posit without concern for judgment in the real world. This is my place to struggle for meaning.

If anyone ever reads this (which I doubt), and wants to comment, feel free. Here are the ground rules:

1) Say what you feel, try not to censure yourself. Are you racist? Antisemitic? Misogynistic? Let that viewpoint color your comments. Pretending that people don't think or feel things that others find distasteful is ludicrous and counter-productive. However, that leads us to:

2) Your comment must advance the conversation. Just posting to say that I am an idiot or that a commenter is a jackass, or that Jews are the devil, will get your comment deleted.

My next post will start the conversation.

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