The sixth April Moon prompt is a black and white photograph of an insect. The picture is composed, however, so that we only see the silhouette of the insect against the wall, and the reflection of that silhouette on a particular axis underneath the shadow of a dividing pipe. The insect itself is not visible, nor the pipe.
We're really good, as humans, about paying attention to the shadow and not the thing itself. It's a staple of horror movies, games, and the like to have a looming shadow approaching the protagonist or the next victim while they do what they are doing, unaware of the danger. In comedy, the thing casting the shadow turns out to be small. In straight horror, it usually turns into a Discretion Shot as someone gets killed or otherwise removed from humanity.
Plato spoke a myth of a cave, where prisoners watched shadows on a wall, gave them names, argued about them, and otherwise invested themselves in insubstantial things, rather than finding a way to break their chains and get out into the light and the real world. Buddhists could conceivably be described as thinking of our entire existence as shadows and insubstantial things, born of desires that wish to perpetuate themselves, but that eventually will cease in the achievement of oneness with the cosmos itself. Not this, not that. Xion, no. i.
We make entertainment out of shadows as well - contorting hands or constructing objects such that when the light is applied, the silhouette of something very different appears. It's the magic of illusions, of seeing something that is right there and yet cannot actually be. Whether we appreciate the effect or, as skilled practitioners of our own illusions, the method by which the illusions are built, there is something that we all enjoy in seeing the unreal become real.
Of course, that's only when we're doing it, as the disclaimer says, "for entertainment purposes only." When we start building and exposing other people to illusions because we want them to do, not do, or believe something, it becomes much less entertaining and much more angry-making. For example, the man responsible for allowing an experiment about guards and prisoners to continue long after it had exceeded ethical boundaries says that young men are not receiving proper support and instruction in correct masculinity
, because a lack of male role models means technology and women are the primary definers of what it means to be a man.
This is an increasingly writ topic as many men that thought they knew what gender roles meant (and that were quite happy with being the top of the heap) find women are increasingly able to live lives, raise children, and have careers without requiring a man to provide financial or other support for any of these tasks. And furthermore, that women may have opinions and preferences about what kind of men they will willingly consort with, rather than having to choose from bad options to ensure survival. The shadow being cast here is one where men are both unnecessary and not present in the lives of young men, although it's usually called "feminism" when people such as Zimbardo are writing about it.
The "absent fathers" problem is paradoxical, in that "Absent fathers" is both "men who leave their male children because they are insufficiently manly" and "women who kick men to the curb because feminism teaches them they don't need men". Even though the supposed solution, forcing women and children to stay with the men that impregnated them by removing their agency, supposedly works in both cases, ignoring the litany of good reasons why men and women should separate and stay very far away from each other. The presence of a father in someone's life is no guarantee that the father is an appropriate role model of masculinity. Zimbardo proves this by citing a poor example of why a father is necessary - conditional love. According to him, mothers give love unconditionally to their children, but fathers do not, and the lesson that some people will only like you based on whether you perform for them or please them is apparently essential to the development of a healthy man. According to Zimbardo, men require extrinsic motivation from another man to develop properly.
If this seems nonsensical, or rings your bullshit alarm, look past the thing itself and watch the shadow that it casts. The unstated part is that "conditional love" is a code word for "discipline". The statement above then transforms into "Mothers love their children too much to effectively discipline them, therefore every child needs a father who will provide the necessary structure and discipline." Which is no more a true statement than "mothers give unconditional love, fathers give conditional love", but at least makes more sense as to why "conditional love" would be touted as essential to proper masculinity instruction. Zimbardo admits as such when taking about how many black homes have no fathers and that this syndrome is now spilling into white culture as well (because blaming black people makes it safe to admit that white people have a problem).
The other great shadow of fear labeled "feminism" by those in masculinity crisis is the march of women into spaces previously thought exclusively the province of men. Those that define their masculinity as the space where men can be that women cannot go find themselves attacked on all sides by non-discrimination statutes and lawsuits as well as women just showing up in male spaces and demanding to be treated as an equal. To that man, as Zimbardo is, this is not seen as equality, but unacceptable "feminization" of these spaces. The increased success of women in these spaces, combined with the "absent father" scare, the shadows they cast for young men are a world controlled by women where there are no spaces for men to bond with other men, apart from women, and to engage in those behaviors that are the rite of passage from boys to men.
It is unsurprising, then, that Zimbardo chooses places that are still seen as nearly-exclusively male (and resisting the presence and inclusion of women) as the refuges these boys are supposedly retreating to - porn, video games, and anti-hyperactivity drugs. Considering that the piece is about the lack of masculinity in young men, it shouldn't be a surprise that the justifications for these three elements engage in gender essentialism, but it disrupts the flow for me.
Video games are addictive because they reinforce the innate male desire to do things rather than reflect and engage in self-awareness, says Zimbardo. As such, they don't appeal to girls. And thus, Gamergate and the entire horde of examples of active exclusion perpetuated at girls and women who want to play games with their friends or in mixed company. Because games aren't appealing to girls. But more importantly, video games prevent boys from engaging in self-examination and developing an individual identity that can withstand the pressures outside.
Which might be true in a world where single identifying markers constitute the entirety of a person's identity for the entire time they are there - that is to say, high school - but the outside world is generally multifaceted, and assuming that their spirit hasn't been crushed by the time they leave high school, most men likely have more than one thing they can claim as a part of their identity. They may have several parts that have been waiting to flourish, now that they have left the single-facet world.
Plus, have you seen games these days? Especially on the indie circuits, there are a lot of games that encourage self-reflection and moral decision-making.
Porn is an easy one for them to tie into the current narrative - lacking appropriate role models of working, living relationships in their lives, and because women and girls always conceive of sex in terms of romance and feels instead of rutting, young men turn to porn to get their visual brains satisfied, and as a consequence, absorb the world of porn as instructive in how their sex lives should be, without narrative, romance, love, touching, or anything other than an endless parade of sex acts that is supposed to be normal.
Furthermore, because they can have a fantasy life that always works without rejection, boys will never navigate the world of dating, being turned down, breaking up, and all of that turmoil. It's phrased as boys not knowing what a girl's agenda is our what she wants, rather than the real risk of rejection, especially in high school, so that Zimbardo can make sure his blame stays squarely on women.
His conclusion is that since boys don't risk anything, they don't get anything, either, and the increasing realism of porn will soon mean they don't have to talk to real women if they don't want. An entire generation of men that don't need women.
Which does not mesh with reality at all. I doubt many men think of porn as the instruction guide to sex and sexuality, especially in this age of Internet, where real and useful information is available to those with a Web browser, including places where questions are answered about all sorts of topics. I suspect it holds cachet because it is, at least to U.S. society, the forbidden fruit for the underage. It's less about what it is and more about how it's not allowed. And it does have an upside, ish - it can be really handy for figuring out preferences, kinks, and things that are arousing, without endangering a partner with inexperience or having them go tell the world of your high school about what kind of sick pervert you are. As an experienced graduate of small-town school, I assure you that the pressures on kids to not be seen in any way that attracts scorn and derision is quite high, and that gossip travels fast. If there is to be conversation and possibly even flirting, there has to be a safe scenario to talk in, where even if rejection is possible, it will not turn into school-enveloping drama. It's not about a woman's "agenda", it's about fostering a safe environment for both men and women to be able to try, fail, and succeed without disastrous consequences.
Rather than relying on a gender essentialist argument, though, this could easily feed the narrative so far constructed - a lack of fathers and male role models means there aren't men in their life who can answer the embarrassing questions and teach them properly about what to do with their actual identities.
No, group settings with a nurse don't count, as the peer pressure present means very few of the real questions on anyone's mind will be asked. And that is assuming that someone gets to that point in school - plenty of religious objections will pull students, even in public schooling, out of classes that talk about sex. It also assumes that the school program itself will be comprehensive and accurate, which is not always the case in states with meddling legislatures and Moral Guardians.
Let me put it this way: in all the conversations I had with my dad about sex (which were, we note, all one way, from him to me), I learned only a few things:
- Sex outside of marriage is forbidden by God. Don't do it.
- Looking at naked women who aren't your wife is forbidden by God. Don't do it.
- If you have sex, you are indicating you want God to bless you with a child.
Considering my dad is a devout Catholic who has been married to his wife for decades now, this should surprise exactly nobody.
What this does, though, is point out the lie that having a male role model is enough to avoid porn. Plenty of people that I know who had fathers present will admit to having seen some. No, the point to be made here is that if your parents choose to avoid educating you about your sexuality, whether because of deeply held religious beliefs or similarly deep discomforts with talking about it with their children, they should provide an alternative who will talk frankly with their children and answer questions honestly, with or without the instructions of religion about those topics. To not provide this means the curious will go about finding that information on their own, and the best you can do is hope they find somewhere informative and accurate, instead of somewhere with an agenda on how everyone should behave. You're leaving that very important thing up to their judgment to exercise good search strategy and to sift and test the information they receive for bullshit. If you don't trust your kids to be able to do that, then you need to provide them with an alternative that will work.
If you wanted to scare people, though, All you have to do is lop off the parental responsibility part, and there's your scary spectre of kids getting wrong information from the Internet. Or porn.
As for hyperactivity medications, this is more a swipe at the idea that teachers and schools are geared to women, who sit, read, write, and have no trouble talking about feelings. Boys and men, of course, are the doers who move, act up, and otherwise get bored because their kinesthetic learning centers (and they're all kinesthetic learners, of course) aren't being satisfied. No gym, no sport, and assignments that require composition and reflection, quelle horreur, because diaries are for girls. (We note the above lament about action versus reflection in video games is apparently not remembered, or has been sacrificed to this newer point.) In any case, since they are not being properly stimulated, the boys become disruptive and get ADHD medication they don't need.
The solutions proposed for all these problems might look like feminism if viewed in the right context. More men as teachers, men clubs where young men can get mentorship and rule models from older men, video games that aren't as violent and are more cooperative, parents taking to their kids about sex, and getting men to learn how to dance - the kind of dancing one does with a partner, I'm guessing, since it's being used as a way for young men to be able to talk to women. There's also a bit about reforming welfare to encourage fathers to stay, which is a no, because no woman should be dependent on the presence of a man to be able to raise her children, but the rest are pretty good, if we assume that the mentorship and modeling the young men are getting represent healthy models of interaction that respect women and don't perpetuate outdated or retrograde ideas. I'm not very hopeful for that, because of the person advocating for it, but I remain willing to be surprised.
Mr. Zimbardo is doubtful his vision will come into reality, though, because he doesn't think that the terrible state for men is going to change any time soon. The citation here is a documentary that seems to be better at convincing is that the current model of masculinity is in need of change, and that the change should be away from doubling down on the current practice of masculinity that Zimbardo and others have been building as the solution to the twin spectres of absent male role models and the march of feminism. If the outer shell of toughness and the inner core of fear are what the current situation produce, we need a new situation. One that needs mentors and role models and talking and teachers and librarians and all of that... but oriented toward making sure we don't reinforce what's already not working.
We have to deal with the insect, not be afraid of its shadow.