role model

Where Are All the Men?

(Photo Credit: teachingonpurpose.com)

Here’s the scoop:

A few weeks back, I looked around the room I was sitting in and found myself as the only man there. There I was, surrounded by 20 other people, and I was the only guy. 20 women, and me. There are certainly many ways that this statement can be interpreted, but I’ll curb the mystery.

I work as a university administrator in higher education, and more specifically, in student life. I was in a room with 21 people, and I was the only man.

Our jobs are to provide meaningful opportunities for post-secondary students to grow and develop awareness and skills in everything from leadership, global cultures, professional skills, etc. Pretty much everything that isn’t academic. This can be done in a variety of forms, from mentorship to peer-to-peer learning, to service learning and community engagement, to international mobility programs (or exchange as it’s called more typically). It’s all really great stuff, and I’m delighted to be to be a part of it.

My own professional background is in community- and youth-oriented initiatives and arts and culture, so I fit right in. Effectively, the programs and services we develop and offer help students (ideally) to figure out who they are, and to discover all the (non-academic) things that they’re made up of.

On the surface, this is great stuff, and I am blessed to work with such a committed group of individuals that are highly educated and honestly concerned with how to do this work well. But with this power to create educative (as well as miseducative) experiences, I’m left wondering “where the hell are all the men?” Have we entirely given up on participating in this conversation?

The answer isn’t so clear.

Maybe this is simply a trend that represents education as a whole. This Queen’s Journal article reflects on a “2011 survey of Queen’s reported that 59 per cent of full-time students are female. In 1950, only 21.6 per cent of Canadian undergraduates were women, according to Statistics Canada.” While there are still male-dominated faculties and professions (engineering, computer science, finance, for example) we need to ask ourselves: why is this shift important?

Perhaps the women’s movement and progress towards equal rights has a lot to do with it.

Perhaps our economic model is at play here – universities need students, and need money. This argument can also be used when thinking about the civil rights movement, and the equity and diversity movement with respect to the LGBTQ community. Just a thought.

As the only man in the room, here are a few thoughts that I had, which I’m sure would not have been the case 30 years ago:

1. They all make more money than me. I know this because they are either in higher positions than me, or I’ve seen their salaries.

1b. Where’s the justice? I mean really, we’re doing the same work, so they can’t be paid more. That’s not right. Right? Sarcasm has its benefits, and is always a welcomed delivery device.

2. The system is reversing, and young men need to be prepared to compete. Queen’s sociology professor Cynthia Levine-Rasky hopes that this will lead them to step up their efforts to do so because “[i]n the past, male privilege went unchallenged.”

I won’t attempt to answer these questions here. Our work is to help students become who they are, and how to best exist in this ever-changing world.

But, when this conversation is missing an entire side of itself, young men will still have to compete. For those of us in the workforce, and in leadership roles, and in education, we need to understand that we’ll have to be better role models simply because there are fewer of us here.

That’s where we are. What are you thoughts on the male presence (or lack thereof) in education?

Joss Whedon: Screenwriter, Director, Producer, Male Feminist, Ally

(Photo: popmatters.com)

For those of you who grew up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, or Serenity, Joss Whedon is not a new name to you. Thematically, he is known for his vision which incorporates strong female leads. Looking ahead to The Avengers and his work in translating other comic books to the big screen, this we can expect him to undoubtedly follow suit.

Why is he progressive? Here’s why:

“You know, it’s one of those things that’s always surprising. I was raised by a very strong woman, I didn’t know feminism was actually a thing until I left home and found out the country didn’t run the way my mom’s house did. So I have this goldfish, idiot, forgetful thing in that every time I’m confronted with true misogyny, I’m stunned. I’m like, Really? That’s like, I don’t believe in airplanes. It’s like, What century are you from?”

Like Joss, I was raised by a strong woman myself and thought it normal to consider a woman’s point-of-view, thoughts, and body, with as much respect as I would treat my own. For us, this has not been as novel an idea as it seems to be in the media of late (#HeForShe, #rapedneverreported #mentalhealth). These conversations need to continue long beyond the point when the media cycle deems them no longer ‘relevant’.

Joss’ work shows quite aptly puts his money where his mouth is, sans agenda:

“Action is the best way to say anything. A guy who goes around saying “I’m a feminist” usually has an agenda that is not feminist. A guy who behaves like one, who actually becomes involved in the movement, generally speaking, you can trust that. And it doesn’t just apply to the action that is activist. It applies to the way they treat the women they work with and they live with and they see on the street.”

The impact of entertainment media (and media in general) on notions of self and constructions of identity cannot be overstated. Joss sets a fine example of how to weave an important topic into the stories that become an inherent part of society’s fabric.

Joss is the TPM Progressive of the Month for these reasons. We look forward to his continued success in the film and television industry, as well as to see how his pop culture influence forwards equality.

Tony Porter – ‘A Call to Men’

(Photo: TED Talks)

I want you to imagine yourself being hooked up to a direct line to wisdom. Imagine that every word you hear fills your brain, and travels through your whole body down to your feet. After the long drive to twinkle-toe town, it returns to your intelligence, where it remains.

Now you know what hearing Tony Porter feels like. Read on:

“This is the love of my life, my daughter Jade.

The world I envision for her:

How do I want men to be acting and behaving?

I need you on board. I need you with me. I need you working with me and me working with you, on how we raise our sons, and teach them to be men.

That it’s OK to not be dominating.

That it’s OK to have feelings and emotions.

That it’s OK to promote equality.

That it’s OK to have women that are just friends and that’s it.

That it’s OK to be whole.

That my liberation as a man, is tied to your liberation as a woman.”

Tony is splendid in his candor, his realness, and his message.

Take 20 minutes to watch this. You’ll see what I mean.

It is a worthy reminder that we need to constantly be on point with this conversation. Local Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi – his now-public saga, and the lives of numerous women – is just a high profile example of what goes on every day. You may even know someone right now that is going through it. Just because the media chooses to focus attention on any given means nothing. It’s called an availability heuristic – look it up. It means that the problem of violence against women is still rampant, and that the work of men like Tony is that much more important to maintain moving forward.

Thank you, Tony Porter, for serving as a beacon of light so that our ships may safely pass.

Check out more on A Call to Men: Working to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.

Phil Jackson – Coach, Mentor, Teacher, ‘Zen Master’

(Photo: Mark Ralston; AFP; Getty Images)

“If you meet the Buddha in the lane, make sure you feed him the ball.” – Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson is the man. He is without question the best coach in NBA history, leading Kobe and Mike (and Shaq) to multiple championships. Some would say he couldn’t have done it without them. I would argue the reverse: championship teams always have great players on them. He has replicated the pinnacle of success more times than any NBA coach ever, and has now embarked upon on the laborious task of rebuilding the New York Knicks (a storied franchise that has flirted with mediocrity over the past 10+ years).

Why is he the TPM Progressive of the Month?

In the big business of professional sports, coaches are the balance-makers between revenue generation and player development. They are given a small army of players, and expected to make it work. Focus too heavily on one aspect, and the other suffers (which might mean your job). In the case of markets where winning isn’t required (see Toronto for more), this pressure isn’t as high.

So, what distinguishes Jackson from his other coaches?

1. Coaches are supposed to win – not only did he win, he fundamentally applied a new selfless system (the Triangle offense) to that end. It forces players to work together, and to read each other, for the best shot possible. We can never extricate his successes from the players he worked with, but that is really a moot point, isn’t it? Eleven championship rings speak loudly.

2. Good coaches are supposed to inspire and motivate – this he did. Through his work, he activates the Situational Leadership model which is the antithesis to the ‘one size fits all’ mentoring and coaching approach. This required him to establish authentic connections to his players, for example making recommendations on what books to read at specific points in time, that were relevant to each player. This is really a tactic that can only be effective by truly knowing what makes someone tick. It is in blending elements of indigenous and Buddhist spirituality together that Jackson has essentially created a new model of leadership development, and in doing so, garnered the title of ‘Zen Master’. This ultimately leads to…

3. ESPN’s Chris Broussard stating that, “[b]eing a great NBA coach is about managing egos, earning your players’ respect, developing team chemistry, making (in-game and off-day) adjustments, and emphasizing the right things. And no one’s ever done all that better than Jackson.”

4. Jackson brought together a group of men who operate in a testosterone-driven environment – complete with traditional gender roles, competitive fangs, and stereotypes of manliness – to open up, hold hands, meditate, and transcend the individual for the group.

While mindfulness has been thrown around as a buzz word, here’s the thing – it works. Applying it to your personal life, daily practice, business, or management strategy helps you achieve great things. It quiets out the noise and lets you and your team focus on the goal at hand: whether greater productivity or inner peace.

The ‘Jackson School of Management’ translates off the court as well – see this Forbes article on Jackson.

I encourage you to read up on Phil Jackson, TPM’s Progressive of the Month. Search for the book at a local public library, or better yet, grab it from your local bookstore.

Selected bibliography:

Sacred Hoops

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success

A Guerilla Education: Rage, Isolation, and the Band that Made me a Man

(Photo: AP; Jeff Chiu)

In 2013, I wrote a piece for the Good Men Project, and opened up a little about what the power of experiential education and music had to do with the man I am today.

Ultimately, it is about how arts and culture can be as powerful an educator as anything else, while highlighting that the public education system itself still has a ways to go in terms of either being unable or unwilling to provide the whole picture when it comes to global and local issues, such as NAFTA, indigenous genocide, or big oil.

“To me, the suburbs are like the top 40—easy, apolitical, and blasé. There was, and continues to be, absolutely nothing in the top 40 playlist that I can relate to; not forties and blunts, not bitches and hoes, and not “Britney, bitch”. The content in these songs has nothing to do with me. In scanning this landscape, I wondered where the hell was my voice reflected in all of this nonsense. I am a first-generation Canadian, whose family narrowly escaped the horrors of both the Holocaust and Communism. I had to find my place. It was through this lens that I began my quest into the musical landscape.”

Read the article in its entirety here.

Respect the Court: a Role Model for Youth

We need more youth in the world like this young man in the navy track suit.

Turns out that the San Francisco Parks and Recreation department has begun a policy of quasi-privatization of public spaces (in this case, a community soccer mini-field). Local youth and local yuppie techies (apparently representing Dropbox and Airbnb) clash in this video, with the latter having actually booked the space for $27. Arguably, they should have expected rules to be rules.

Yet, in the absence of a formal dispute resolution process, no park managers to enforce bookings, and a municipal parks and recreation system that has clearly found itself affected by technological externalities, this young gentleman becomes the voice for the entire sports field, and a great role model for his community.

It’s easy for us as on-lookers to simply point and virtuously suggest that we would have done something special or differently, or in my case, to even comment. Yet, I can find parallels with my own basketball community. Over the years playing pick-up, there is inevitably someone or some group that will challenge the established order which has seemingly been around since the Roman Empire. Yes, please tell me more about how you’re so much more special then the lot of us, who have been playing here forever and know each other. Tell us how you are the buck which the trend has been waiting for, or how you should play before everyone else. Without fail, the court rules will always win – they’ve simply been there longer.

Why? It has to do with respect. Put plainly, respect for the court.

At 4:10 of the video, the informally-reached solution is established: follow the rules of the court – suit up 7 players and wait your turn. You win, you play on. You lose, you wait some more. That, or “you guys can have this stand off for the next 30 minutes”.

2 points of note here:

1) It’s a real shame that the elder yuppies didn’t resort to this level-headed approach, or think of another approach that was fair to everyone involved. They would have likely scored points with the community there, met some cool kids in the neighbourhood, and not perpetuated any previously-held notions of who they might have been. Once they got there and had realized that there was no enforcement mechanism, the only course of action is to respect the court, and take the issue of your money up with the city.

2) The techies could very well have had their asses kicked (literally) on another day. They were outnumbered. In the end, they ended up playing, but not without a whole lot of unnecessary shame.

A big TPM shout out to the young man for being the true voice of the community. He acted not only as a great role model for the young ones, but also for those who should have known better.