Real Mad Men: The Latest Episodes

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          A growing wave of most forms of violence and harassment against women is putting huge strains on health services around the globe. 

         The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the internet is “peopled with hundreds of websites, blogs and forums dedicated to savaging feminists, in particular, and women, very typically American women, in general…they are almost all thick with misogynistic attacks that can be astounding for the guttural hatred they express.”

         As Covid 19 spikes across the U.S. and much of the world, a “shadow pandemic” is growing alongside it: domestic violence. And with the pandemic, “Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries.” UN Women reports. “And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services, essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have reached capacity.” 

         On Aug. 10, 2020, Tulane University researchers released a study finding that the virus has resulted in a major spike in domestic violence. Of the women surveyed, 59 percent of those who experienced violence prior to the pandemic reported an escalation of violence. 

On July 19, a lawyer who had openly identified with anti-feminist groups shot and killed the son of a federal judge in New Jersey when the 20-year-old young man opened the front door of the family house. The gunman’s main target was Judge Esther Salas, according to a list found on his body after he shot himself. The shooter, Den Hollander, described himself as “an anti-feminist” and had published blog posts in 2006 arguing that women were inferior to men and advocating physical violence against them. In one post, he said “women should be strapped to missiles and dropped in the Middle East.” 

         On October 8, 2020, the FBI arrested 13 men who were planning to kidnap and murder Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and in mid-August, when a teenage girl in Dallas, Georgia posted a picture of a crowded hallway in her high school showing few kids wearing masks, she received online threats. Hannah Watters told CNN that those threats included:  “We’re going to jump every girl named Hannah in the tenth grade,” and, “Hannah is going to have a rough day at school on Monday.” 

         On the steps of the Capitol building  in Washington, D.C.,  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was approached by a fellow member of the house in mid-July. Ocasio-Cortez reported that Ted Yoho, a Florida Congressman, hurled insults at her:  “He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous.” Also, she said, “There were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters Rep. Yoho called me, and I quote, a ‘f*****g bitch.’ “

         Mad Men, it seems, are getting madder. There is a growing belief in our culture that men are losing power to women across the board, and the voices resisting women’s new ambitions are multiplying, Perhaps the most extreme statement of male madness comes from Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist under former president Donald Trump. As the editor of the alt-right website Breitbart, he published the anti-feminist article: Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer? and once complained to a journalist, “The anti-patriarchy movement…is a powerful political force that will undo ten thousand years of recorded history. You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. It’ll never be the same going forward.”

         Further, MIT’s Technology Review reports that “Men from the less extreme end of the misogynistic spectrum are drifting toward groups that espouse violence against women.” Researchers at Binghamton University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University College London, Boston University, and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics also found that “online platforms are increasingly exploited to spread hate, extremist ideologies, and weaponized information, and have been repeatedly linked to radicalization leading to real-world violent events.”  Tech Review also warns, “Indeed, it seems that not only are older, less-violent groups dying off, but membership in… younger, more toxic communities have seen a spike.”

         In fact, many of the people worrying about men and boys today are male psychologists. One of those is Dr. William Pollack of Harvard Medical School, who writes about it in his book, Real Boys: “The ‘Boy Code is society’s definition of what it means to be a boy–demanding that boys suppress or cover up their emotions. As a result, boys develop a ‘mask of masculinity’ to hide their shame, vulnerability and the other feelings they cannot express publicly. The inability to show true emotions hardens a boy until, ultimately, he loses touch with them.” Today’s boys, Pollack also writes, are “only allowed to lead half their emotional lives.”

         It seems that Mad Men are created in boyhood, so how do we, as a society, deal with the growing numbers of angry males? The American Psychological Society suggests, “We have to dismantle the box that traps too many boys thanks to the mask of masculinity. We must foster a peer culture ethos that motivates everyone to get involved in challenging and interrupting all forms of abuse, and helping to create a climate in which abusive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are seen as unacceptable, uncool and unwelcome. “

        Psychologists Michael T. Schmitt and Jennifer Spoor at Queensland University in Australia found that when men focus on the gains women have made over the past 50 years, they report high levels of anxiety, as well as a strong identification with their own gender. There’s a tendency to circle the wagons, to exaggerate how far women have come and how far men have fallen. This reaction can easily translate into hostility. But when men focus instead on all the discrimination women have faced in the workplace, they are far less likely to be anxious, and more likely to root for women to succeed.

         In fact, rooting for women can have substantial benefits for men. As future managers who will have responsibility for hiring, firing and promotions, men need to fully understand how important women are to the health of their companies’ bottom line. Deloitte and McKinsey report that companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment than companies that lag on this front.

         We need a society-wide effort to help boys from feeing that they always have to wear the mask of masculinity, more training for law enforcement in how to handle online threats against women, and more scrutiny by web platforms to take down threats. We also need “an earlier analysis of when and how men’s rights get radicalized,” says Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor at Binghamton University. 

         Turning down the temperature that Mad Men have raised is good for the mental and physical health of everyone — men, women and children.

About the authors: Dr. Rosalind  C. Barnett is a senior scholar at Wellesley College and Caryl Rivers is a professor of Journalism at Boston University. They are the authors of The New Soft War on Women. (Tarcher/ Penguin.)

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