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#405: The Man Issue
Four stories that explore the question, “What does it mean to be a man?”
Just like that, it’s August. It was my birthday yesterday, work started up in earnest this week, and Article Club is back after its summer hiatus. Thank you for being here.
This week’s issue is about the state of men today. We know they’re struggling (for example: decreasing college graduation rate, increasing suicide rate, decreasing life expectancy). But I didn’t want to choose articles with familiar headlines. And I didn’t want all doom and gloom. The point of Article Club, after all, is to promote thoughtfulness, nunace, and empathy. I’m particularly pleased with the lead article, which I highly recommend, especially to educators as they return to school. The other three pieces — including a “best-of” from the archives — are solid selections, too. Hope you enjoy one or more of them, and then let me know if they resonate. 📚
⭐️ We’re back: Join us for this month’s discussion of “Why Poverty Persists in America” on Sunday, August 27. The online conversation is 2:00 - 3:30 pm on Zoom, and the in-person discussion is 11:00 am - 1:00 pm in Oakland. It’d be great to have you. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond knows how to write, and in this excerpt from his book, Poverty, by America, he explains why economic equity has not improved over the last 50 years. The answer is not a decrease in government spending. Rather, the answer is capitalism’s unchecked expansion of exploitation. Then, Prof. Desmond challenges us to do something about it.
On the fence? Listen to fellow Article Clubber Melinda and I chat about the piece in this podcast episode. Don’t worry, there aren’t major spoilers, plus Melinda is great. Besides, listening might spur you to sign up for the discussion.
All right, have I convinced you? If so, it’s time to sign up! I’m looking forward to seeing you there. (Also, feel free to ask me questions about how it works.)
Despite my tendency to gravitate toward serious articles and heavy topics, I always love a feel-good story — especially around this time, when I’m gathering inspiration to start up another school year. This is one outstanding feel-good story.
At first glance: Jessi Fernandez joins a gang, loses loved ones, and spends time in jail, but nothing extinguishes his dream to make something of himself and give back to his family. So he joins Homeboy Industries, gets the support he needs, and eventually earns his college degree from UC Berkeley. It’s a pretty amazing personal story of resilience, determination, and as Mr. Fernandez says, ganas.
On a second glance: It was palpable how Mr. Fernandez’s success was a community undertaking. Many people and organizations banded together to provide guidance and a strong safety net — from Homeboy Industries, to Community Overcoming Recidivism through Education, to the University of Oxford, to the People of Color House, to Berkeley Underground Scholars, to Father Greg Boyle, to Brittany Morton, to Kevin McCarthy. It was heartwarming and staggering to take in. It also reminded me that much of my work as an educator is connecting young people to a network of possibilities in their community, to support them on their life path.
And one last thing: It didn’t hurt that Mr. Fernandez found solace at school, sought out mentors along the way, and always came to class prepared. It also didn’t hurt that Mr. Fernandez is a deep, curious thinker. At his graduation, in addition to announcing that his next step is to pursue a doctorate in sociology, he quoted Paulo Freire:
Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. It’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.
A generation ago, we were supposed to be scared of video games because they made our boys violent. Not so, said the research. But now, games have become so addictive that boys rarely go outside, spend way less time in unstructured play, and experience fits of rage when parents try to regulate their screen use. This story of Canadian mom Alana and her Fortnite-loving son Cody is an extreme but sadly familiar one. Cody loses interest in soccer and school; he steals his family’s money to make in-app purchases; he breaks a window in a fit of rage. His parents seek professional help for Cody. But they also realize that this problem is not a personal or family failure. Instead of blaming themselves, they take Epic Games to court, joining a class action lawsuit claiming that the company knows exactly what it’s doing and is purposely exploiting children and promoting addictive behaviors to pad their profits.
“I started noticing it a few years ago,” columnist Christine Emba begins this essay. “Men, especially young men, were getting weird.” She quotes a friend: “Men are in their flop era.” In this comprehensive opinion piece about the state of men and masculinity, Ms. Emba covers her subject from every angle. She considers the incel, the hoodie-wearer, the alt-righter, the manosphere, the Proud Boys, the gamer. Ms. Emba takes a look at history, reminding us that it’s not only our generation that has stressed out about the “true meaning” of masculinity. She explains how Jordan Peterson and Sen. Josh Hawley and Andrew Tate and other manfluencers have reclaimed a traditional masculinity of protectiveness, leadership, and emotional security that is attractive to young men. But it’s also violent and misogynistic, Ms. Emba argues. The problem, she writes, is that a new definition of “good masculinity” has not yet emerged. And because progressives are not comfortable focusing on the struggles of men (for fear of being labeled as sexist), it’s going to take a long time to develop a sense of masculinity that is healthier and more robust.
A FAVORITE FROM THE ARCHIVES
Chosen for the newsletter back in 2017, this podcast series caught my attention again this summer, for some reason, and I binged-listened to it again, just like last time. Six years ago, the story of John McLemore and the plight of men in his Alabama town helped urban elites understand Southern deplorables and the Trump victory. What begins as a Serial-style whodunit quickly morphs into something much more sinister. Some people found the whole project exploitative, especially because Mr. McLemore never gave his consent to several episodes. Despite the controversy, I found the storytelling even more gripping and the main character even more heartbreaking this time around. If you haven’t had a chance to listen, I say try it, if you can stomach the subject matter. (There are many content warnings.) You certainly won’t forget Mr. McLemore anytime soon.
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