Solutions to the ‘Crisis of Masculinity’

In the final section of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s ‘Man Disconnected’ the authors outline a few suggestions about how to combat the crisis faced by young men around the world. The post summarizes chapters 16-21).

Before reading this you might like to read the following posts:

  1. Man Disconnected, which summarizes the evidence that young men are in crisis (chapters 1-7)
  2. Man Disconnected summary part 2: why are young men in crisis? #1 (chapters 8-10)
  3. Man Disconnected summary part 3: why are young men in crisis #2 (chapter 11) – technology enchantment and arousal addiction
  4. Man Disconnected summary part 4: why are young men in crisis? #3 (chapters 12-15)

Solutions to the Crisis of Masculinity

Zimbardo and Coulombe break down their solutions to focus on what governments, schools, parents, men, women and finally the media can do…

What governments can do:

  • Support the role of the father
  • Limit the use of endocrine-disruptors
  • Get more men into grade school teaching positions
  • Get junk food out of schools
  • Improve how schools prepare students for their lives ahead

What schools can do:

  • Teach life skills
  • Incorporate new technology for more interactive learning
  • Quash grade inflation

What parents can do:

  • Teach children to be resilient by letting them organise their own play and take risks
  • Give children responsibility for important tasks within the family
  • Encourage children to think about a future career, and to explore vocational options
  • Discussing taboo topics like sex
  • Fathers need to priorities fatherhood
  • Get children to track how much time they spend on different activities

What men can do:

  • Turn off the porn
  • Track your activity and consider what else you could be doing!
  • Play sports
  • Make your bed (small accomplishments lead to bigger accomplishments)
  • Discover your inner power
  • Make a few female friends
  • Don’t call women sluts
  • Find a mentor, be a mentor
  • Vote

What women can do

  • Mothers and sisters basically need to encourage the strength and hardness associated with manhood, while having the depth of character and emotional sensitivity to help men become better communicators.
  • Don’t be promiscuous – because this just sends out the message to men that they will always have a string of available sexual partners
  • Choose a ‘good partner’ rather than a ‘flash partner’ – there are plenty of ‘good men’ (who want long term relationships) being overlooked because they are ‘drowned out’ on dating sites by better looking men who have no genuine interest in commitment.

Zimbardo’s final chapter is a brief one on what the media (especially the porn and gaming industries) can do to help stem the crisis of masculinity.

 

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Technology Enchantment and Arousal Addiction

A summary of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s Man Disconnected, part 4.

It seemed appropriate to devote a whole blog post to this chapter (chapter 11) as this seems to be the main thrust of the book. (No, the book’s not that well organised!)

Zimbardo Man Disconnected.png

Chapter 11: Technology Enchantment and Arousal Addiction

J.R.R. Tolkein used the word ‘enchantment’ to define a human being’s total immersion in a fictitious world.He said that the more…

‘You think that you are bodily inside [a] Secondary World [the more] the experience may be very similar to Dreaming… but you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp’.’

Tolkein’s writing is certainly enchanting – when I first read The Hobbit and  Lord of the Rings when I was about 11, I was absolutely transported into Middle Earth for most of the book.

However, according to Philip Zimbardo, it is far easier to get wrapped up in online virtual realities than it is in a book, because they are more sensually immersive and have rewards systems and status which hook you in: with games, for example you get to actually play the hero or anti-hero, and gain virtual rewards risk free; while with online porn you get to be a ‘virtual sheikh with a harem’ – having your choice of girls to wank over with no threat of rejection.

Today, both computer games and porn are extremely pervasive, and literally millions of young men use these two together as their first port of call to meet their basic ‘male urges’ – to be competitive/ be a winner/ and gain status, and to achieve sexual gratification – you can do both by using a combination of computer games and porn: in fact, not only is it accessible (and very cheap), you have a choice over exactly which game, or which ‘type’ of porn you want to use to ‘fulfil your needs’.

This has been encouraged precisely because men have been taught to be ashamed of their competitive nature and their male-sexuality over the years: according to Zimbardo these are effectively aspects of masculinity that men have been taught to hide in an era of female liberation: the result is that young men repress these ‘natural’ aspects of themselves in public and turn to online worlds to express these aspects of themselves: to be competitive and get their status rewards through gaming, and get sexually gratified by wanking over porn.

In the world of online gaming and porn gaining status and sexual gratification is very easy: you simply learn a few skills and level up, or choose your fetish and spank your monkey, and millions of young men who have effectively grown up immersed in these environments now have their pleasure sensors hard-wired into this ‘switch on get gratified immediately’ mentality. There is also research which suggests that the more pleasure is associated with habitual patterns of action (such as online gaming and porn) then the less responsive pleasure centres are to less familiar experiences.

The problem with this is that in real-life gaining status through such things such as working with others, and gaining sexual gratification in a relationship are just a little bit more complicated!

Zimbardo has been criticised for lumping gaming and porn together, but he sees them as similar arguing that they are both based on ‘arousal’ and that increasingly the two are merging. As far as he see it, Porn and Video games are potentially psychologically and socially damaging to some males, especially those who use them excessively in social isolation.

Zimbardo points out that games designers may think they’ve ‘hacked Maslow’ except that the rewards online games offer can be achieved without the need to relate effectively others.

Zimbardo now cites research in which in gaming cultures, it is common to mock people for losing, which doesn’t happen in real world sports, and that some gamers retreat further into their gaming worlds the more their offline lives do not yield them success.

There is also a phenomenon in which gamers real world selves becomes more like their gaming personas, and Zimbardo warns us that this could lead to more egocentric and individualised behaviours.

Finally, there is a problem that people’s behaviour can be manipulated online, through clever use of avatars for example, a problem which will become more acute as online and offline worlds become more similar and harder to distinguish.

The Dynamics of Porn

In this section, Zimbardo outlines the results of a survey on the effects of porn on young men and women. The general gist is that the availability of online gratification through porn reduces young mens’ patience, makes them hold themselves to unrealistic expectations and cripples them socially.

He cites numerous interviews with men young and women in which they outline the fact that porn has resulted in a lot of young men suffering from performance anxiety, further evidenced by viagra prescriptions increasing for the under 30s.

Porn also encourages young men to see sex as just an act in itself, with no ‘build up’, or no ‘chase’ as such – young men are now less likely to approach women in night clubs, partly because, in porn, there is no story to lead into the sex-act itself.

Chronic Stimulation, Chronic Dissatisfaction

A recent study by the CDC found that heavy porn users are more likely to suffer long term physical health problems, suggesting that over-stimulation through porn rather than engaging in actual person to person sexual interaction might lead to eventual sexual isolation.

According to Alexa, 5% of the top most 100 viewed websites are porn site, and most of the people viewing them are young men under 24…. Alone in their bedrooms.

And porn sends out certain messages, most obviously that sex is about fucking rather than emotional connection and conversation, and of course condoms are rarely seen in porn.

7/10 heavy porn users report sexual problems in their relationships, compared to 3/10 light porn users.

Research from the Max Planck Institute suggests that heavy porn use ‘wears out the pleasure receptors’….. The lead researcher hypothesizesd that to get a dopamine release, and basically to get an erection, porn users would rely  on more and more extreme types of porn….. And sex with the same partner in real life becomes less and less satisfying as a result.

The Madonna-Whore complex…

Zimbardo rounds off this section by suggesting that a lot of men in the Western World have developed a ‘Madonna-Whore complex’ – they regard the women they have, or want to have sex with, as whores… but they cannot deal with women who are both attractive to them and nice – mainly because they can’t sustain an erection when having sex with the same woman over and over again.

The Dynamics of Video Games

Zimbardo starts this question by pointing out by recognising that there are positives to playing computer games, and that that they are really only concerned here with young men who play video games in isolation, primarily with strangers, which is just over a third of all gamers.

For these people, Zimbardo suggests that computer games can make real life and other people seem boring by comparison.

He cites statistically controlled evidence that children who spend more time gaming later on suffer lower paper-test scores at school, and reduced attention spans generally, suggesting that this could explain the higher rate of ADHD among boys compared to girls.

Comments

This chapter is a bit skewed – much more evidence on the effects of porn, much less on gaming, and I’m not convinced that it’s useful to lump the two together – these are both hugely diverse areas which at least deserve the attention of being studied separately, surely?

Man Disconnected

Amid shifting social, economic and technological climates, young men are getting left behind, at least according to Philip Zimbardo and Nikita D. Coulombe in their 2015 book ‘Man Disconnected: How the Digital Age is Changing Young Men Forever‘.

Zimbardo Man Disconnected.png

The two authors cite a range of anecdotal and research-evidence (some of it primary) to put forward the argument that men are ‘flaming out academically’, falling behind in the world of work, failing to connect with women and struggling with addictions to porn video games and drugs (both legal and illegal).

In order to understand why men are increasingly disconnected, they develop a three part analysis:

  • firstly they highlight the individual dispositions (such as ‘shyness’ and ‘impulsiveness’) related to male disconnectdness
  • secondly they look at situational context – such as widespread fatherlessness and the ease of availability of online games and pornography
  • Finally they look at structural factors such as changes in the labour market.

These three factors together have resulted in many men lacking purposeful direction and lacking in social skills: may would rather live at home with their parents, often extending their childhood into their 30s, (on this note, you night me interested in this post on the increasing numbers of young people living at home with their parents, UK focus).

Rather than face up to the complexities of adult life, more and more young men stay at home, distracted by an online world of gaming and porn, which further reinforces their social isolation and awkwardness.

The book is split into three sections:

  • the symptoms (or you might say indicators) of men being disconnected, which I deal with in this post
  • the causes of men being disconnected.
  • Finally, the authors offer some solutions for dealing with what we might call a ‘crisis of masculinity’.

The Symptoms of Male Disconnectedness 

In this (short) section the authors simply trawl through a range of evidence to outline the problems faced by young men in many societies about the world. NB the evidence cited is mixed – some is global, some US and UK focuses, some not particularly well referenced at all.

The authors break ‘the symptoms’ down into seven major sections:

  1. Disenchantment with education – girls are outperforming boys in every subject at every level of education around the world.
  2. Men opting out of the workforce – the male unemployment rate globally has increased nearly fourfold since the 1970s – from 2% in 1970 to 7% in 1990/
  3. social intensity syndrome – this is a phenomenon in which increasing male shyness means men prefer the company of other men… they’d rather have bromance than romance.
  4. excessive gaming – this is a weekly evidenced section – we are told that the average person will clock up 10k hours of gaming before they are 21, but in terms of gender, we are simply told that the majority of gamers are male, and informed that in a couple of pieces of research of couples where only 1 person was into gaming, that person was male 70-80% of the time.
  5. becoming obese – this section focuses mainly on the US where 70% of US men are overweight, 1 in 3 are obese.
  6. excessive porn use – the average boy watches nearly 2 hours of porn ever week, and 1 in 3 are heavy users, meaning they can’t even count how much they watch. The problem with porn is that it teaches young men (with no prior sexual experience) to treat women like sex objects rather than as human beings.
  7. over-reliance on medications and illegal drugs – this is a poorly written section, the only statistical evidence cited is that 85% of medication for disorders such as ADHD are given to males.

If you like this sort of thing then you might also like the following, follow on posts:

Before reading this you might like to read the following posts:

  1. Man Disconnected summary part 2: why are young men in crisis? #1 (chapters 8-10)
  2. Man Disconnected summary part 3: why are young men in crisis #2 (chapter 11) – technology enchantment and arousal addiction
  3. Man Disconnected summary part 4: why are young men in crisis? #3 (chapters 12-15)
  4. Man Disconnected summary part 5: solutions to the crisis of masculinity (chapters 16-21)

 

Our waning interest in Pornography and Patriarchy?

Here’s an interesting correlation between the quantities of books published on Pornography and Patriarchy…

Patriarchy and Porn

This is from Google ngram viewer, which searches the content of five million books. If you take it at face value, then public interest in both pornography and patriarchy peaked around 1995, and have been declining at a similar rate ever since.

wordpress.com doesn’t allow me to embed html – but click here for the online version:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=patriarchy%2C+pornography&year_start=1940&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cpatriarchy%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cpornography%3B%2Cc0

Of course I’m skeptical about whether that’s actually the case, I’ve just been messing around with Google ngrams and wanted to share my pretty graph.

Besides being perty, the above graph is useful to demonstrate the limitations of quantitative secondary  data analysis…

Firstly, public interest in Patriarchy and Pornography haven’t necessarily been declining since 1995 – books may still be written about these topics, but without using these words – So people may be writing about the same things, but just using different words – an important reminder of the limitations of doing quantitative analysis using a limited range of key terms.

Secondly, we can’t necessarily compare over time – this is only a mere book search – I’m damn sure the majority of people who write about the above two topics today do so online, and when did the online writing explosion start – the late 1990, so probably books on everything decline from the mid 1990s!

Thirdly, the above obviously tells you nothing about the quality, tone, ideology of the material being produced. Are these pro or anti-books. Is it that useful to just know merely the topics that people are writing about?

I’d be interested in comments – How much does Google ngrams actually tell us about changing trends in the kind of things people are writing and reading about today?