Inclusivity

These days it is hard to not see a conversation on Facebook or social media about inclusivity.  In some ways, I don’t even know where to begin, but here as a few of my thoughts on what has been happening in our country.

Education

Americans are experiencing the inflation of education, in which the importance of a College education has been stressed so much that it is integral to our national identity.  Yes, an education is something no one can take away from you, but as I walked around in Target yesterday with my son, I heard a woman talking to her young daughter saying something I have heard a hundred thousand times.

“If you go to school and get good grades, go to college and get an education, you’ll get a good job and you won’t need a boyfriend or a husband to get nice things.  You can have them all on your own!”

Yes, independence!  Great!  Education.  Great! But here’s the bullshit we are all fed from a young age.  “If you go to college, you can get a good job…”  I remember being told this when I was a kid.

I watched my dad come home from the coal mine, blowing black dust out of his nose, coughing his guts up every morning before he drove off to the pit in -30 F weather to work a ten hour shift.  He hated his job.  It was backbreaking work.  The money was good, but in a boom/bust lifestyle, it was difficult.

My mom got to see doors closed because the jobs she applied for were going to people with a Bachelor’s degree.  Later, in her 50s, she got a BA and by then, doors were getting closed on her because they were now looking for an MA to fill those positions.

My grandparents ran a trucking business, which they sold and retired on on their mid-50s.  They warned against running a business because it was so much work and so much of a hassle.  My great-grandpa had started the company and he had an eighth grade education.

I hear a lot of “You just can’t do that anymore.”

I have to wonder why.

Gatekeepers

I got to thinking about this as I walked around the place where I work.  My day job is at the same university where I got my BA.  I haven’t gone far, considering the job I worked as a student was just down the hall as a computer lab consultant.  I have 16 years in the same building right now.

I work with a population of older women who got jobs here when you only needed a high school degree to work as an office clerk.  Some of them have retired with 35+ years in their positions, accumulating a lot of work experience in what they do.  However, when they retire, the jobs are opened for people with BAs, MAs, and knowing a second language.  A lot of this is because as an institution of higher learning, we ought to at least look the part.

Office staff are “educated” while custodians, maintenance, and food staff are not.  The university is drinking its own Kool Aid.  The funny thing is that even though some of us “educated” employees are independent thinkers, have a wide range of talents and backgrounds, we are continually reminded of our place.

We don’t have letters after our names.  No Ph.Ds.  So when we are working or having a discussion, those who do get to be called upper administrators or faculty, they have no qualms with interrupting whatever is going on to get what they need done.  And you know what?  A lot of people are happy to allow this.

In this country, we stand in awe at those who have amassed an education.  We consider them our “experts” even though so much of what the news reports as breaking news is just gleaned from peer reviewed papers professors have to write to keep their jobs.  And a whole bunch of other professors can refute these papers and have their differing opinion published to keep their jobs.

Really what it boils down to is a lot of people who never had to graduate high school.  They make a comfortable living dispensing degrees and holding or shutting the gates on others as they see fit.  And who tells us an advanced degree is the best way to be successful in this country?

The higher education system.

Drinking the kool-aid

Think about that.  Remember when Phillip Morris used to tell us how healthy cigarettes were?  Or what about the companies that made margarine as a healthier alternate to butter?  This country is now polarized.

We see a lot of “woke” or educated people whose perception of common sense is vastly different than the salt of the earth people who still live here.  We are led to believe that Trump won the election because of Russian collusion, or maybe even racism.  I see more of an indoctrination of the “educated” who also tend to have more liberal leanings.  Because as a person who has been through the system, I can assure you that being told about my privilege, my whiteness, and my affluence is ruining the lives of the same people of color or those poor uneducated bastards who would love to be in college right now but can’t, just reminds me that people who bought into the lie of “get an education and you will get a good job” look down their noses at plumbers and electricians and people who own their own sanitation businesses.

While an “educated” man such as myself is paid less than a new hire with zero experience just coming into this institution. Much less than someone who sells beer to restaurants for a living. Because being saddled with $100k in student loan debt makes sense when you are getting a degree to teach English for $15 an hour.

I’m smarter than you so I know better

These are the “smart”people who plaster Facebook with diatribes of how the Right are Nazis.  Where did they learn that?  Because the people who didn’t go to college, usually don’t flex their intellectually superior nuts like that.

I walk on these grounds without concern, because I went through the system and I no longer hold it in the same awe as someone who didn’t.  Certainly not like that lady in Target.  I make a living from being here.  But I also know I am not a part of it other than a cog in the machine.  It exists because it reminds everyone how important it is.  How successful those at the top are.  How the idea of not having it limits capable people who are brilliant, but don’t have the degree to validate this.

But how important is it, really?

Does the professor calling a towtruck from the side of the road consider this whenever he gets a flat he has no idea how to fix on his own?

I can see why Mike Rowe made a whole living off telling people the importance of trade professions. Or maybe that’s how my lens is tinged because I’ve worked here for so long and see just how ridiculous it all is.

I have known people who make six figures who have considered themselves underachievers, because unlike me, they didn’t get their BA.  People, I went to college to make that kind of money and I probably never will.  Definitely not in my major’s field. Back in the day, I was told to better myself, just like that little girl, and that meant going in a different direction than what my parents did. That meant college.  What would my life have been like had I gone to a trade school, rather than driving a desk around people who are infinitely wiser just because they sat through six more years of school?

I’d probably be on vacation right now.  Running my own company.  Cashing checks.  That’s what people do who have worked a job for 20 years solid usually.  They aren’t just sitting down the hall from where they worked as a student.

If you are making a good living, regardless of where or if you went to college, you won.

Advertisements

What is a man?

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy in regards to something known as “toxic masculinity.”  I have seen a lot of this kind of talk in recent years.  Some in regards to “mansplaining” and others in regards to what is known as some sort of male hierarchy of “Alpha males”, etc.

If I were to go by the rules set on social media, it seems that as a male, (I’ll get to that in just a bit), attempting to put in my two cents is going to be regarded as “mansplaining” which in recent years, I think is pretty much any time a male enters a conversation about him, that is also excluding him.  It reminds me of Victorian conversations on physiognomy, race, and origin, in which women, minorities, and people of different faiths and creeds were discussed at length and never did anyone stop to consider what their take on segregation, racism, misogyny, or even slavery meant to them.

“Quiet.  The adults are speaking.”  I have heard something like that a lot on social media.

Today, since this is my soapbox, I am going to share my opinions and thoughts on the matter, in regards to the Gillette ads, social media, and pretty much anything else.  It could get weird.  I don’t know.  What I do know is when you express yourself in writing, your words tend to stick and can’t be taken back.  So here goes.

The Gillette Ad.

I watched it.  I really wasn’t offended.  I think 2,000 years ago, a man who walked for a brief period of time on this planet might have thought being kind to others and standing up for the weak might have been a good thing.  Depending on your perspective, this could have been Jesus Christ, or it could have been one of the Stoics.  They share a lot of the same beliefs.  Don’t be a dick to other people.  My only concern about the ad was that the man who stands up to the bullies and defends the weaker kid, while all the others chant “Boys will be boys” learned how to stand up to injustice at some point.  He learned somewhere that at some point, a man has to stand up and yes, sometimes he has to intervene.

We have left an entire profession to do our standing up for us: The Law.  If we see injustice or danger or something that isn’t right, we–as men–are encouraged to rely on other “men” to correct the situation.  The reason I use “men” in quotes like this is because law enforcement can be men or women, but really, it is legally sanctioned brute force with the support of the law behind it.  If you see someone picking on an old person trying to walk home, you call the cops.  If you see someone taking a woman home from a bar who might be drugged or too drunk to give consent, you call a cop.  If your neighbor is throwing poisoned meat into your yard for your dogs to eat, you call a cop.  If the infraction against you isn’t technically a criminal offense, then you call other “men” to fight your battles.  You get a lawyer.  You take the offending party to court.  In the court system the end game is less justice and more a marathon to see who has the most money to keep a lawyer on the case for “justice.” The first one to blink loses.

So why are these infinite grilling dads just saying “boys will be boys”? Because little kids smacking each other isn’t criminal and it isn’t worth paying a lawyer to stop.  Because as men, we have been told intervention isn’t our place anymore.  We pay others to be masculine for us.  Professional athletes make millions of dollars to be our heroes.  Soldiers go to war and fight and kill and return home with a strange differential that the training they received to push themselves to the limit is not something civilized modern men do.  We watch “men” like John Wick and John McClane shoot terrorists and bad buys to bloody chunks, and we are reminded quickly that these are fantasies once the credits roll. In reality, we are powerless to correct injustice.  It’s escapist fantasy. We hire actors to be men.  Dads are buffoons in sit-coms, they aren’t men.

Men are relegated to a few things that are “manly” in our society.  We are expected to pay child support for children we never get to see, we work long hours to provide for our families–and yes, women also work and often support families as well, but men who might find themselves being the stay-at-home dad are considered lesser by our standards.  We aren’t expected to voice our opinions either, or else we face criticism as being part of “men’s rights” coalitions, “whining” about things that have been off balance for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Sorry, but stopping a conversation and saying “this isn’t cool” is not sexist.  Women were called “women’s libbers” for saying they should be paid for the job equally back in the 60s and 70s.  It is stifling either way.

I am a single dad.  I work full time. Two jobs.  I cook. I  clean.  I band-aid skinned knees and chase away monsters and hold my kids when they cry and tell jokes to make them laugh.  I was never a very good athlete in school, but I try to stay healthy (which is more than can be said for a lot of athletes I did know over the years), because I want to live for a while as well as I can.  I was never a guy who someone would consider “toxic” in my masculinity.  I read. I enjoy poetry.  I am emotional.  I cry sometimes when I am happy or see something beautiful.  But I can shoot straight.  I can make fire or sharpen a knife.  I can fight if I have to.  I face my fears, but am aware I have fears.  I flirt. I am fiercely loyal to someone I am with.  I love the smell of wildflowers and tobacco (not burned thankyouverymuch).  I have never been to war, other than the one I fight every day with myself.  I am a writer, so I look inside and I pay attention to what is going on in the world to piece the stories together that I see every day.  I work hard, but sometimes I am a lazy man.  I am aware of my faults, my hubris, my ego.  I have been hurt, but I keep standing up to go another round.  I don’t handle my liquor very well, so I don’t drink often.  I know my limitations.

When I saw that ad, I thought, the worst thing a man can be is complacent.  Just accept the checked shirt, dad-pun role he has been assigned.  To accept labels.  To keep his opinions to himself because his “privilege” is the only voice he needs.  Do you think I like being lumped in with the viewpoint that men are aggressive, sexual predators?  Do you think I need someone to tell me to be better?  No.  And I don’t need the privilege of hundreds of years of men being in power to be my voice either.  Anymore than I need a bad movie about people chasing ghosts to be considered a good movie just because it features an all-female cast.  It’s still a bad movie.

I don’t need a razor company to speak for me, mostly because they have contributed to what ad makers in New York have done to men and women for a hundred years: prescribed masculinity/femininity.  The same people who have told women through magazines that they aren’t good enough are doing the same thing to men.  They always have.  It’s not new.  Real men smoke Marlboros, real men drink Lord Calvert, wear this shirt, drive this car, eat this food.  It is equality in manipulation.  Though I really didn’t disagree with the message they were sending.  It just felt a little like “ad-splaining”.

I used to read the Art of Manliness website. I don’t know if some would consider it “toxic” masculinity.  I really don’t care if they do.  I liked the site because it embraced things that men could relate to. Things they should relate to, but often miss. Things from how to tie a tie to how to shave with a razor.  How to survive a night in the woods or how to survive a dinner party.  These are things that men used to learn when they were boys, but now men have lost the way.  Nowhere on that site did it say, “treat women like shit” or “you can’t cry while watching the Fox and the Hound”.  Though I know of some dads (and moms) who have told their kids that.

I liked the site.  But I got to learn things about how to be a man from being in the Boy Scouts as a kid. I was lucky.  My dad was doing what he had to do, by working 60 hours a week to put a roof over our heads and me through college. He knew I would figure it out.  And moms…well, moms tend to appreciate their boys as boys until their 60s.  Being a man is much like being a woman, I would imagine.  It’s about making decisions.  Standing up for what is right.  Working hard for things that are important.

I see Atticus Finch as being more of a man than Chuck Norris.

I see a man standing over his grill at a family BBQ as more manly than his sister’s boyfriend the quarterback, because the man at the grill might just be holding on for dear life, he might want to die because he is spending his years at a job that sucks, paying for kids who don’t even know him. He might have found a lump on his left testicle just the other day. But he is wearing a “Kiss the Cook” apron and turning the hotdogs while Johnny Football hero gets to talk about how many 300lb reps he can bench. The other is a guy who got puked on and stayed up most of the night because his kid had a fever and he was holding the bucket for them while they threw up.  He’s the guy who went to work the next day on two hours of sleep too.  He is showing a lot of restraint in putting up with his sister’s boyfriend.  That is a good quality to have when you are a man.  Restraint means you won’t have to call your parents from jail in the middle of the night because you pushed a guy with cauliflower ears when you had too much to drink, or 2am calls to your best friend to help you with impromptu burials of douchebags who treat your sister like garbage.

But then again, grill guy is a man too.  He doesn’t need to brag or prove it.  He just shoulders his burden and keeps going. He lets other people take center stage when they need it–if they are that insecure. And eventually, if he has to say something about it, he will.  Maybe “boys will be boys” also means, “if my kid doesn’t figure out how to defend himself now, he’s always going to let someone bully him.”  “Boys will be boys,” as far as I know, has never meant to abuse women, just to make that clear.

Alphas are only such because they are boys playing at being men.  They swagger.  They belittle.  They brag about their masculinity.  They push others down, instead of holding them up.  When they can’t get a woman’s attention with sincerity (because they don’t know what that is), they use aggression.  They might go home with the prettiest girl at the bar, but they won’t appreciate her as anything more than a conquest.  They talk about all the “pussy” they got in High School.  They never stuck around to hold the woman whose feelings they hurt long enough to know how to make things right, or when to let her go.  They never got to know her, because they are afraid of knowing themselves.  They will punch a guy in the teeth for calling them out on something because they can’t accept they might be wrong.

There are gradients in between.  There is no right formula to being a man.  Other than acting with honesty, humility, compassion, loyalty, perseverance, faith, and a whole lot of other things that are “hard.”   Basically strength of character.  Men and women both require character, of which this world has found itself in very short supply.  In short, we as men, are doing what we can.  The rest of the boys need to catch up.

As far as “What is a man?” That is a loaded question.  It’s a lot of things.  There are no right answers, but there are a lot of wrong ones.