Mark Greene, senior editor for the Good Man Project, and author of The Little #MeToo Book For Men joins the program to discuss his own journey into exploring what it means to be a man, as well as the dangers of the “man box” culture and the negative impact that toxic masculinity has on a society as a whole. Mark reveals tips for creating safe spaces for men where learning and positive change can occur.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Mark’s diversity story and how his passion for his work developed (3:00)
- The cost of shutting down emotional expression in boys and men (8:30)
- What Mark learned from his experience as a stay-at-home dad (13:00)
- How to create safety for men to make different choices and take risks (18:30)
- A key moment of courage for men (23:30)
- How women have internalized “man box” culture (28:30)
- The conditions under which learning and change can occur (35:00)
- How to start to have conversations about gender and masculinity (37:30)
- Why men should demand equal pay for women (41:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome to The Will To Change. This is Jennifer Brown. My guest today is Mark Greene. Mark, welcome to The Will to Change.
MARK GREENE: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: I tracked you down because I follow the conversation about men and masculinity in a lot of my social feeds. I discovered that you wrote The Little #metoo Book for Men. That’s this little pamphlet very digestible very readable. I digested it fully on a plane ride and just couldn’t highlight enough on each page. It was really a transformative little easy tool that I really want to give to every single person I meet. But really, it’s the first tool I think that I’ve ever seen that is particular to a certain audience and presents information in a way that is easy to understand, that doesn’t shame and blame, that educates at the same time as it calls to action.
That is honestly, the highest compliment I can give, because that’s what I strive to do as well. But you’ve done it specifically for me experiencing this #metoo moment and feeling very paralyzed. What you do beautifully, is you put actually this is not just one moment, it literally is the outcome and the product of a whole culture surrounding masculinity and it may be peaking in terms of #metoo and the attention of that. But this problem has been with us for a very long time. I can’t wait to bring your work to our listenership. I think they’ll really, really value this and value hopefully picking up a copy of this.
I’m very excited for this conversation, but we always start our episodes with our diversity stories. Some people in looking at you may say to themselves, “What is he doing writing about this? Why does he care? What’s his vested interest in this?” It is sad that we don’t trust people’s motives, isn’t it? But tell us why you do this work that you do, that you found your way to this topic that has become your lifelong passion? Describe to us what you might consider to be your diversity story.
MARK GREENE: I will do it. Let me say at the outset that I completely understand why people would be asking themselves those kinds of questions. I think all of us need to look at where people are coming from when they engage in a conversation about manhood and masculinity. I will also say that everyone is coming, everyone is coming to this conversation.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank goodness.
MARK GREENE: My own story and the reason I came to this work was I truly and honestly carried a deep and abiding sense of utter confusion for decades in my life. I could not understand why childhood, why young adulthood, why working life had to be this way, the way that I actually experienced it. Nothing about it gave me a sense of authentic connection or human resiliency. Nothing about it was anything but putting one foot in front of the other through what felt like a minefield of loss.
For me, that was the reason why I began writing about masculinity. It was triggered with the birth of my son. But I’ll go back a little further than that, my own experience as a child growing up was that I was essentially dealing with isolation. I think boys and girls of my generation and I’m a Baby Boomer, grew up in families were conversations between parents and children wasn’t really all that likely to ever happen.
We went through divorce, we went through some really traumatic difficulties and there was no one to talk to. I was one of those kids who wanted to talk, who wanted to communicate, who wanted to share and there was no one to do it with. No one. In that regard, I think it took me decades to find my voice because I never had the trial and error time or opportunity to develop it. That’s not good.
JENNIFER BROWN: You talk about relational ability that boys and then men are exposed to or not, in this case, that you document so well the learning to relate to each other. The learning to be vulnerable. The learning that it’s not only okay to be all those things but healthy and necessary. You literally lay out in your book how isolation that is unique to what you call the Man Box culture, which I’d love you to define, is isolating harmful leading to increased levels of suicide. That #metoo might be the latest manifestation of something that’s been growing for a long time in our society and we really haven’t addressed. What can you tell us about how all this starts to happen in childhood? You brought up a really poignant research about the difference between how four-year-old boys answer questions about the best friend and how they answer those same questions in their teenager years and what shifts. And, what gets suppressed and stays suppressed in so many ways throughout life and then into our life as professionals and parents and the list goes on.
MARK GREENE: I think it’s crucial to understand that the process by which we are taught to be boys and men is directly related to the denigration and abuse of women. It’s not as if the process of man boxed culture wanted to go after women like, “Oh, we’re going to teach boys how to be men and additionally, let’s pick on women.” What the mechanism actually is that we as human beings, boys or girls any gender anywhere on the gender spectrum, are born with relational capacities, the ability to express emotion in authentic compelling ways. The ability to communicate and connect. The need to be in relationship.
In the case of boys what happens in man box culture, and I think many of us by now because of the work of people like Tony Porter, in bringing this man box more into general culture, we all sort of understand that the rules of man box culture include things like real men don’t show their emotions, real men are providers not caregivers, real men are leaders, real men are sexually successful and dominate, real men love sports.
The moment you start to consider these rules of man box culture, what you notice is they’re all about what we do not who we are. But when you talk about the suppression of emotional suppression in very young boys, what we’re really coming to see is that when we shut down emotional expression – emotional expression takes place in the back and forth of relating. It’s actually born out of relationships with other people. When we say to a boy, “Do not express your emotions,” what we’re actually doing is taking away from them the trial and error process of growing relationships, authentic connection, expressing who they really are. In that moment, we put a hard stop on their ability to form the kind of relationships they need personally and professionally to have a successful meaningful life.
Now, what’s key here when we talk about man box culture is that there’s a specific way that we define those capabilities, those capacities for connection, we feminize them. Look around, women know how to form friendships, women have circles, women do this, women do that, boys don’t do that. It’s biological. Whatever the argument that you want to make that this does not come to boys in the same way that it comes to girls, so we make those capacities feminine and then when boys express emotional or express the need for friendship, we shame it as girly or gay.
When we say, “What are you a sissy? Get up be a real man. Shut up, what are you a faggot?” All that language around when boys seek to connect, immediately ties the expression of masculinity to the denigration of women and to the denigration of LGBT people and to the denigration of difference. And so, how could you have anything but a culture of sexual abuse towards women when every single message that these boys receive is don’t be feminine, don’t be female it is less.
These are not messages that come occasionally, these messages come hourly. Hourly. Judy Chu wrote a book called When Boys Become Boys. She was embedded in a pre-K class, so we’re talking about four-year-old and five-year-old boys. She followed this class of boys and girls for two years. The important story that I always try to relate about that is a four-year-old boy comes up and he says, “Mrs. Chu, I’m friends with all the girls but don’t tell Mike, he’s the head of the boys club, because if he finds out I’m friends with the girls he’ll kick me out of the boys club and I won’t have a club anymore.” This is a four-year-old child who has already received very clearly the cultural message that you are not to communicate, relate, form relations with, learn the nuance of communicating with girls.
But what’s more important to understand is he has already begun to suppress natural occurring relational urges, need for connection, appreciation of diversity, all those things he’s suppressing because he already knows who the alpha is in his group and he’s already aligning himself with the expectations there. He’s four. He’s four years old.
JENNIFER BROWN: Unbelievable. Unbelievable.
MARK GREENE: Niobe Way wrote a book called Deep Secrets and she tracked adolescent boys’ friendships, right. Boys who were entering adolescence at 14 and 15 talk about their best friends like it’s a Harlequin Romance, “I love my best friend.” The other thing they always say is, “Without my best friend I would go crazy.” Three years later these same boys are saying, “Well, that friendship is kind of on a cross fade. It’s kind of fading out. I don’t really see that much of him anymore.”
When she dug into the data, and this is a across culture, across race, across the world, these boys would say, “Well, yeah, yeah my best friend Frank is really great at whatever, no homo.” That’s one thing they would say. Then when she dug in further, she found out that we have these generations of boys who are proving who they are not based on their authentic selves but making sure that people understand what they are not which is little boys, girly or gay. In the moment that they disengage from these best friends, their suicide rates become four times that of girls at that same age. That’s our problem.
JENNIFER BROWN: So disturbing. Into the life of dads, I think you were a stay-at-home dad for a time, and you told me a story about being with the other dads in the park and doing a version of code switching. We talk a lot about this on the podcast as you can imagine because all of us are engaged in some level of managing stereotypes throughout. For you, when you show up as different there is the risk of still being bullied. Perhaps it’s not in overt ways, but how do you sense the tension even at the park with the kids amongst the other dads, you’re still surveilling. You said that manhood is constantly being policed and they want to avoid the bully. They’re always clocking who’s going to give them problems, particularly if they are different or they choose to hold other men accountable and say something about something that bothers them that they hear around the water cooler.
It is really terrifying and risky to be that one that deviates. I guess those lessons of how the bully is going to make you pay in your childhood continue into adulthood, which I found fascinating. As a woman reading about this, I had imagined what locker room culture is like and I have certainly read it and researched it, but to hear a man write about the conformity that is threatened, that is required and what happens if you step outside of that. The fact that men are navigating this all the time around each other. This is what’s going on and to speak up is dangerous.
MARK GREENE: We think that’s over but it’s never over for men. The other thing that’s important to understand, I mentioned earlier that man box culture is about what men do not about who we are. Accordingly, it’s a treadmill. It’s a hamster wheel. It’s not what have you done in your life, it’s what was your last paycheck? What’s the last person you went to bed with? You’re constantly expected to prove again and again and again by doing that you remain able to prove your manhood.
What this means is that as men begin to age out and their knees start to give out or their pickup lines aren’t working, or they God forbid lose their job you end up with a population of men who have never been able to form the kind of robust community of relationships because all men distrust each other and all men police each other. They’ve not been able to form the kind of robust community that gives us meaning once we step off the hamster wheel. Accordingly, they become angry and reactive and we see that in the current generation of older white American voters who feel like they need to make America great again, which somehow magically means they would be able to get back on the hamster wheel, have their youth back and keep proving over and over again that they’re real men.
But ultimately, it’s an empty and isolating tread mill. The long and short of it is that the best way to deal with the anxiety this produces inside man box culture, if you’ve had enough, if you just can’t get enough drinks in you or can’t get enough sex or get enough whatever it is that validates you, then the key safety valve that is built in there is go police another guy who is not doing it as well. If it’s somebody outside the box, beat him up, shame him, fire him. The whole man box culture is utterly self-defeating and deeply isolating. The epidemic of isolation that’s being faced by men in this culture – this is my own story, I lived through the deepest sense of loneliness. Utter loneliness that we’re just supposed to accept.
The epidemic of isolation is men and women are both impacted by the man box culture. If you’re living with a man who is emotionally siloed, you’re going to pay the price for that as well. But the long and short of it is, it’s equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of its health impact. AARP says, “One in three Americans are chronically lonely age 45 and older.” That’s 42 million people. Cigna came out with a study last year that says, “One in two Americans, all age groups say they are either sometimes or always feeling alone.”
The health impact of this, if you can imagine, it’s literally degrading your physicality. It increases the likelihood of heart disease and cancer and diabetes and obesity and depression and all this other stuff. Imagine what your daily experience of life and living is in that level of isolation. It’s epidemic.
JENNIFER BROWN: Mark, we talked about all the men that want to break out of this, but you call it the integrity trap. I know that you wrote the book right at or after the Kavanaugh Hearings, as this was on your mind. I’m sure that many men and a lot of us want to define ourselves against the kinds of behaviors that we’re seeing, right? But it is trapped in a way and it’s funny you related this to the Gillette ad that just came out about masculinity and how the brand itself hadn’t had a history of talking this boldly on this topic, so we weren’t sure do we trust it? Have they earned the moral authority to talk about that? Where’s that coming from?
I think that you can extrapolate that intent question to men who want to be different. Men who want to change and breakout of this dynamic but being seen as perhaps hypocritical. Being seen as not having earned it or perhaps having things in your past of course, that was I always perfect? No, and nobody is or has been. But how do we somehow create the safety for people to say, “I want to be different. I know I’m breaking out and taking a lot of risks and breaking the code, if you will. That I’m going to be policed by others and bullied.” Which might be the soft bullying that happens in the professional setting, but it can be very devastating to clients, to assignments, to careers, to being invited to hang out socially, all the penalties to challenge that guy at the water cooler.
You say that men are sort or paralyzed and betwixt in between. I feel that every day. I know this group is very large and I know there’s a want to change. But it’s so risky and people are really stuck, particularly they don’t have the language, they aren’t sure they’re pristine in terms of their behavior in the past. They don’t know how to talk about that or own it. They don’t then have the relational skills that you were just talking about that were effectively starved I think, throughout the way that boys grow into men.
MARK GREENE: I actually was tracking something. When the Gillette ad came out there were voices who said over and over again, they used the word integrity. They said, “Gillette has no integrity on this issue. They have no history of speaking into this space. In fact, they made pink razors and charged women more for them.” There was this whole uniform messaging that leapt into social media. At the risk of putting on my tinfoil hat, I want to be really clear that we know now that various political entities are driving messaging into social media in an effort to stoke up this man argument for the 2020 elections. What is a man?
They talk about it in terms of traditional manhood being under attack, which I also have a whole spiel around. But this issue of an integrity bind, when they came after Gillette and said, “You know what? You don’t have the right to talk about this because you have no history on this before. Why are you suddenly doing this now? Is this virtue signaling? What is this? Blah, blah, blah.” There was a whole argument going on that never addressed the question of hey, maybe we should reduce the amount of abuse against women.
Nobody was arguing about whether we should reduce bullying. We never even got to that part of the conversation because of this integrity bind. Now, millions and millions and millions of men are in the middle. The problem with man box culture is that we all grew up in it and in order to prove we belonged in our boys’ club, we had to speak ill of girls. We had to speak ill of gay people. We had to talk trash. If you’re already being indoctrinated into this when you’re four, this whole process has already happened before you’re old enough to even understand what you’ve lost in the way of relational capacities, in terms of communities you’ve cut yourself off from and so on.
We all carry a history of man box culture and the way we perform that version of manhood. When we come to the point where Gillette puts an ad out and 100 voices, some of them individual men, some of them coming from troll farms and what not driving into that conversation that there’s an integrity bind, that is an inoculation against corporations who have heretofore not spoken into that space speaking into that space. But it’s a wider inoculation as well. It inoculations the population of men in the world who then say to themselves, “Yeah, I don’t really have much efficacy on this issue either. I got my own hypocrisy around this. Who am I to speak up?”
I call it the integrity bind and that bind is real for men because men want to have continuity in the way they are in the world. They don’t want to do a complete about face that looks fake to them. Furthermore, the alphas and the bullies in their circle are ready to call them on it immediately, “Oh now suddenly you’re better than the rest of us?” That whole message. We’re talking about men who have daughters. If they’re going to speak out against the abuse of women, even in their own families, they’re struggling to break with this question of hypocrisy about their own histories and that’s a moment of courage for men.
If men become conscious of this integrity bind, that helps them put together the courage to break with it and go ahead and speak. But they need to be mindful that there’s a lot of influences in their life that want them to stay bound up in it.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s for sure. I want to quote you on this topic. In the book you say, “We must stop saying to ourselves I’m one of the good guys. I’m protecting and providing for the women in my family. I will focus on keeping them safe, on empowering them.” Then you say, “In our silence, we are culpable.” It was really heavy, really true. You talk about this guy Joe and watercooler and something called suppressing fire when you try to be different the bully wins. But he wins because of our silence. Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic? Describe that watercooler thing as it unfolds and you get to this point where you say the message of the bully about women is public but our refusal to accept it is private, so we make no impact. Right?
I focus a lot in my work on the good intentions not being enough. Living your private life or looking out for the women in your family not being enough. Funny enough, in my circles we say, “Oh, good there’s another male executive that says, ‘Oh, I have daughters, so I care about this issue.’” We kind of roll our eyes.
MARK GREENE: Oh yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right? Because it’s convenient and I think we’re waiting for the next shoe to drop. What does it really mean to you though? If it didn’t affect you personally from a vested interest, would you care about this in a bigger way?
MARK GREENE: Imagine it in the context of the integrity bind. This bind is going to continue to affect me. We have to understand that there is an intersectionality here between a multitude of different influences that are silencing mend. The integrity bind couples with the bullying culture couples with privilege couples with my status couples with a leader’s need not to alienate part of the population of men who may be in and of themselves more reactive alphas and abusive in their behavior. He’s trying to keep everybody in the room. There’s a lot of intersectionality in terms of the influences.
If you say, “Well, I have daughters and therefore I care.” What you may be acknowledging is that this web of intersectionality which is keeping me in a bind, keeping me locked down has muted my ability to speak, has limited my ability to understand that if I don’t speak up, I’m not even going to be able to protect these daughters and close friends and my spouse. The thing that happens around the watercooler, when the bully speaks up and says something about a woman’s body as she walks across the way and there are six or seven guys around. Maybe four of those guys are like, “Oh God, here he goes again.” They just roll off because they don’t want to challenge him because they know and understand that he’s not simply making a declaration out of ignorance, he’s actually trolling those six men. He’s checking their responses and he’s asserting his political alpha authority in that moment.
There’s nothing he would love better for one of those guys to say, “Hey, do you need to talk that way?” Because immediately, he would drive home a very abusive reaction response on that man in order to manage and control the other five. That’s what we call suppressing fire. You speak up in a circle of six men, it is not traditional or normal for those men to ever share their view on this matter, so you don’t know if the other five are on your side or not. Four of them go, “Oh, don’t get him started,” they roll out. Two of them go, “Yeah, what are you a feminist?” This one individual will stay on the hotseat with that bully for the rest of his time at that company.
That guy will say stuff, micro aggressions behind his back. He’ll say, “No, we don’t want him on our team he’s a this he’s a that.” It’s not an accident. Picture the bully in your mind, anybody listening right now. Did you just picture Sean Hannity? It is no accident that those political voices in the media mimic this bully presentation. It’s no accident that resonates for their population of men who enjoy their show. It’s happening all around.
JENNIFER BROWN: Why do you think women are complicit in this or participate in it or exhibit the aspects of the man box culture continue to support it? I wonder do you view white women has having a particular complicity with it? How can you unpack some of that? I get asked all the time why do women not support other women? That comes up more often than I wish it would in my keynote audiences. I like to roll back to the patriarchy and the pervasiveness of the messages of scarcity that we get.
MARK GREENE: They internalize it. Women internalize patriarchy, they internalize man box culture. There’s a couple of different reasons why they might choose – I say it all the time, if men magically tomorrow stopped teaching our children man box culture our sons would still be taught by their mothers. Many men and women teach don’t express emotionally, be tough, be strong. They understand the inherent unfairness of that but they’re trying to protect their sons when their sons move out into the world. They don’t want them to become victimized. They don’t want them to become targets.
That’s one reason. But another reason is that many, many women internalize patriarchy and internalize man box culture and they believe it with all their heart and soul. Self-reflection around what man box culture teaches us a man is, is something that both men and women need to look at.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so good. I know Mark you’re involved in some better conversations where men can walk into the room and not clock for the bully. There is no bully. It is not about that. The goal of the gathering is different. This is in the form of the Mankind Project and other conferences as well. Some of which I’m starting to go to as well because I want to be in those spaces talking about inclusion and providing any knowledge I can to involve many, many people who want to do more but are paralyzed, are feeling othered. Not feeling included in the conversation about inclusion ironically because I don’t think we’ve done a great job of that.
But tell me about those positive conversations. Where are the occurring? Where do you see them? What role do you play in creating them? What are some of the hallmarks and what does it feel like energetically to be in those spaces and what kind of transformation happens?
MARK GREENE: Men are not going to make the choice to move towards community with other men unless and until they say to themselves, “I’m sick to death of being alone. I’m just sick of it. I don’t want to do it anymore.” We may have 10 or 12 friends, but they tend to be relationships of proximity. I go to the gym, I know Frank and Bob and Joe there. If I change my gym, those relationships go away. I pick up a few more. I’m friends with the PTA guys at my kid’s school. When my kid goes to a different middle school they drop off. I find some more.
These are all relationships of proximity. They’re all surface level, they’re all ultimately empty. Someone said in a tweet the other day, “Men get together, and they drink beer and they talk for two hours and say nothing about their personal experience of life, about their own challenges, about what’s going on for them.” This leads to this desperate sense of isolation. I don’t know anything about the men I spend all my time with. When men say, “That is too thin of a gruel for me to survive on any longer,” maybe men end up at an AA meeting when they arrive at this conclusion. Maybe they end up going through their second divorce. Maybe they end up fired from their job because they cannot stop being reactive and angry and frustrated.
When men finally say, “I need community,” then they to go a place like the Mankind Project or Every Man, or a number of other organizations. What happens in that space is you walk into a room with 30 people and you no longer have to threat track. You don’t have to do the threat tracking anymore because everyone there is seeking connection and everyone there is open to that possibility because they wouldn’t have driven two and a half hours to get there otherwise, right?
It is so rare. Jay Sefton wrote a paragraph once and I included it in my book. He talks about what it’s like when there’s a power outage in a city. The power goes out and suddenly for the first time you realize what it sounds like when that ambient electric sound is gone. He says that men who are injured will sometimes be put on pain relievers and a powerful pain reliever will relieve the pain from the injury and also the pain of isolation and disconnection. This is where addiction just leaps up because men say, “I don’t want to feel that again.”
When you walk into that room boom, that isolation goes away. You stop tracking for threats and you start discovering that men are these wonderful, luminous, creative, kind, funny human beings and you make these connections. They’re lifelong connections. I have people that I met through the Mankind Project. I did their New Warrior Weekend. It’s not perfect. Look, I’m Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t to be the member of any organization that would have me as a member. But that being said, it is a fairly powerful mechanism by which you can then form connection with men who say, “Yes, I want a fully authentic real connection with the men in my life.” In that moment you change your life forever. It’s done, you don’t have to go back.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know what I love about what you’re talking about? I know the words safe space trigger a lot of folks on a lot of levels. I’m a real believer in safe space as that place to just let your guard down, to relax, to breathe, to trust and then the learning can start to happen. You’ve got to have that safety. It bothers me so much to hear that in certain circles it’s viewed that white people don’t need a safe space because the world is their safe space. We can fill in white for men. Men don’t need safe space because the world is their oyster.
Yet, when I hear you describe the radical shift in tone and experience and trust that occurs when the purpose is aligned and these gatherings occur, I wonder it is magical and I’m sure there’s probably not a woman that’s there for this point in people’s journey. That there’s an importance to that safe space so that the vulnerability and the trust can occur. In some cases, probably for some of these men for the first time they’ve ever felt that.
I know when I do LGBT leadership programs, when we get all LGBT leaders in a room for the first time they say, “I’ve never been in a room in my 30 years at this bank, I’ve never been in a room with just LGBT people and I want to cry.” All these emotions come up and they say, “I can finally relax. I can be honest. I’m not spending all this energy,” I think you said threat tracking. When you’re a person of difference in my communities, not yours, but in mine it’s usually a conversation we have around minority or marginalized communities who are literally never in the room with other people that look like them.
I mean, literally. Every single day multiple times a day you’re the only woman on the floor. You’re the only African American in an entire team. So, when you get with your people it’s this thing you cherish. It’s really important that-that group is really homogeneous in its way. We say we exclude to include. There’s still a real place for that. It strikes me that I just think it’s unexpected probably for a lot of our listeners to think about what men need in a homogenous space like what you’re describing. What is enabled and permissioned in a space like that? That all of a sudden you can get down to bedrock with each other and then start to rebuild into more diverse space.
MARK GREENE: Yeah. The way I describe this book is I say, “Look, if you want to have a powerful conversation with someone you love about masculinity, give them this book.” Now, I’m not saying man or woman, whoever they are whatever their gender performance is, this book works for anybody because what it does is it makes clear what is happening to three and four-year-old boys. What is happening to their beautiful ebullient joyful connection in the world. They are being punished for it every day for the rest of their lives.
If we don’t see men for what they can be if you take that off of them, then we’re not seeing men fully. Think of the worst claustrophobia you can imagine. We’re saying to men, “Look, connection is right here. You have just walked in out of the desert. I’ve had this glass of water. You are dying for a glass of water. Here’s the glass of water,” and they stand there and look at you and they can’t lift their hand and take it.
If we don’t have the compassion to invite them to go ahead and take the water, man it’s good water and you’ve been thinking about it for 35 years, then we’re going to miss the opportunity to make them reach out for connection. It is connection that men don’t have. There’s a study out of Norway somewhere, if I had to track it down for you I could, Niobe Way talks about it. But literally men who are in lifelong viable meaningful personal relationships with a spouse and men who are in that plus have a circle of meaningful relationships, friendships with men, fundamental authentic meaningful relationships, that population has a much lower incidence of heart disease.
Men can’t get everything they need in a single partner personal relationship no matter how beautiful it is. We must be part of community. We must be part of a diverse community of connections. God help us if eventually that community is men and women and people of color and all the diversity. Your book Jennifer, beautiful starts to talk about what Millennials have an appetite for in terms of difference and connecting and the beautiful generative spaces across difference. What happens when things get created out of our multiplicity of selves.
The idea that right now we’re at this place where we’re going to try to get African American people to get together inside a company so they have some sense that the threat tracking can die down, ultimately our goal needs to be a world where there is no threat tracking. Where there’s discovery and joy and interest and curiosity and amazement at how wonderful life can be when we’re connecting with different kinds of human beings. Right now, I feel like I’ve been handed the Triscuit box over and over and over and over and I’m looking at this bank and I can’t go over there. Here’s your Triscuit box, here it comes again. Here you go buddy. Enjoy your Triscuits. I’m starving to death here, right? I want to see that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Just the Triscuit box I feel like would make me happy. I don’t know. You’re so unusual.
MARK GREENE: The uniformity of what you’re expected to want is absorb when human diversity is what enriches all our lives.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I want to just quickly, could you describe your argument for why men should demand equal pay for women? I just loved it. In one paragraph you’re like, “Here’s the reason why.” Could you just recap that for us? I thought that was eloquently done.
MARK GREENE: Well, the thing that fascinates me about man box culture is that it is ultimately a political tool. It’s used to manage men and manage everything that men believe politically. If it wasn’t designed to move power up in this pecking order pyramid it wouldn’t be here. What amazed me when I thought about it was, we have millions of men who are like, “Well, women get paid less, what are you going to do? It’s the way it is.” These men are married to women and many of them are working. Millions of them are working women.
These guys are like, “Yeah, women get paid 20% less. What are you going to do?” I’m like go get your bank account and open it up and look at the balance. Now, look at what your wife is earning every single month and add 20% to that. That’s a rental property, that’s retirement, that’s pay in cash for your kids’ college over a 20-year period instead of going into debt. What is up? The only way we can understand this is that men believe they’re getting something of greater value than that money. What is it?
JENNIFER BROWN: What is that?
MARK GREENE: What are you getting?
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m intrigued.
MARK GREENE: You’re getting the illusion of status over women. Men are literally living less connected, shorter, more impoverished lives for the wonderful joy of the illusion of status over women. Wow, what a payoff, so valuable.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh God.
MARK GREENE: This should tell you how much conditioning that men get that the feminine is less, that connection is less, that wanting human connection and expressing it, all those things are feminine. How many times that conditioning that-that is less, how many times have they gotten that? Girls get a version of that. Girls get the Disney princess story and whatever and what’s tragic is you’ve got Disney princess waiting for the prince to show up and when he arrives, he’s probably going to have contempt for you. That’s our system. That’s what man box culture has created and that’s what our larger culture has created.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for sharing that argument. I think it’s perfect. I’d never heard it articulated that way. I love it. In our remaining time Mark, at the very end I wish there had been many more chapters in your little book, but it’s such a perfect little book I wouldn’t change anything about it. But you do start to go into advice. You talk about endeavoring to break out of these things. What are some ground rules that you need to keep in mind if you’re a male reader and you’re thinking about trying to increase your connection? I loved some of the advice you give which sounds a lot like the advice I give in my writing as well. Tell a little bit about what are some starting actions and some guardrails that men in particular need to be cognizant of as they reach out, as they start to try to breakthrough this, particularly, in the context of listening and questions? What sort of instincts have men been acculturated to do that they need to interrupt also in terms of relating in a different way?
MARK GREENE: Well, because men don’t have a lot of experience in managing emotional expression or experiencing the emotions of others, we as husbands and fathers and co-workers and whatnot are really in the habit of fixing things. You tell me your problem I’ll fix that for you. What we don’t understand is when our child comes to us and they’re upset, and they have a problem it’s our own emotional discomfort in witnessing that strong emotion that makes us fix it. When we fix it the thing, we don’t say but what’s implied is there I’ve fixed it now don’t show me that emotion anymore.
My partner Saliha Bava helped me write that particular chapter. We talk about what we call relational intelligence, and this is learning how to do the nuanced back and forth that happens in relating. The daily momentary back and forth with our children, our partners, whoever. We present ideas like listening with curiosity, asking questions, holding uncertainty, considering context, holding ideas lightly. All of these things in the case of men are designed to help us break that pattern of fix it and move on to experience it.
Sometimes the people that we love, our little children, our partners, even the people we work with they just want to share what they’re going through. They don’t need us to give them the answer. Just being with them when they go through the process of sharing that can sometimes be all they need. The ways in which men have been trained to avoid experiencing the emotions of others, we can learn to hold strong emotions and not collapse into them. We can learn to hear the stories of other people and sit with them. Sit with them while they process.
When we let our children express what they’re going through and we don’t immediately hand them the answer, they begin to explore their own experience in the world and grow their own nuanced understanding of how they respond and react. What they’re creating in relationship to other kids, other challenges and when they arrive at their own answer because we’ve gently given them questions to consider, that’s stuff sticks. That sticks in a much bigger way then if we say, “The next time you see that bully on the playground you need to pop him one and let’s move on.”
JENNIFER BROWN: I love your voice just now. It’s like your channeling someone. Gosh, Mark. I hope that last chapter becomes book number two. I thought it was really well done. Sometimes it takes a man writing to other men about the habits and the boundaries and the language and the intentionality you were describing, but I think you did it perfectly. It’s great that you wrote it with your partner. Not surprising, I’m sure there’s still nuances that you’re learning. At one point you write, “Women aren’t obligated to have these conversations with us.” Remembering that and having that respect and gentleness and openness and not feeling compelled to fix and not feeling compelled to be right.
I think there’s a bit of our understanding why mansplaining happens, there is some good intent in mansplaining which is let me solve that for you. Let me explain it to you. Let me try to figure it out. Let me try to remove this thing that you perceive is causing difficulty for someone. Occasionally these things, I see them as coachable moments, but they’re misguided acts of love sometimes when they’re not grandstanding and being obnoxious. It is that we all want to give someone the answer, like you said, instead of just sitting with it and letting them arrive at their own. Perhaps women are better at this than men. It’s because perhaps genetically we’re more predisposed but we’re also socialized to do this better.
MARK GREENE: I write in the book that men have always been under this command and control hierarchy, so we’re used to taking and giving orders. Whereas women who have been subject to the whims of men all their lives, have a much higher capacity for dealing with uncertainty and planning around it and moving through it. That is both a crime that has to be the way it was for so long, but it’s also given a much broader capacity for managing emotional uncertainty and all of the things that come with being human. When we move into those spaces instead of shun them or hide from them, what we discover is beyond that door is powerful, generative, beautiful, creative connecting moments. It’s the connection we don’t currently have.
JENNIFER BROWN: Mark, I just love this. Thank you so much. Where can folks follow your writing? I already mentioned the book The Little #metoo Book for Men. What else can they read by you? Where can they find your thought leadership?
MARK GREENE: Well Saliha Bava and I, and she more than me, work together to write The Relational Book for Parenting. It is the cure for this problem of disconnection. We can engage our children in ways that grow their relational intelligence. Its got cartoons, its got fables, its got games, its got all the stuff. If you come to ThinkPlayPartners.com, there’s information about the books. There are links to a lot of articles. I’m on Twitter @RemakingManhood and we have a Facebook group Facebook.com/RemakingManhood where there are other resources as well. Come find us and come connect with us. We’d love to hear from you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know my audience is going to love this. Thank you so much for joining me today Mark.
MARK GREENE: It’s a huge pleasure to be here. Thank you, Jennifer.
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