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Somewhere between “men are scum” and “women are liars” lies the truth.

As sexual harassment allegations have poured into the news this fall, it’s pretty clear that there are, on the one hand, some very black-and-white cases and, on the other, some big gray areas.

Harvey Weinstein, some of the nation’s top journalists, politicians from both parties, British MPs, and President Trump have all been accused by multiple women of acts ranging from the piggish to rape. And let’s not forget the long list that preceded them–Bill Cosby, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, to name a few.

Sex should be about love, or at least between consenting adults. It should go without saying that it should not be about aggression or power.

Yet, all sexual crimes and misdemeanors are not created equal. A man forcibly sticking his tongue in a woman’s mouth (pretty gross) is not rape (simply, criminal). Making an off-color sexual joke or innuendo (generally inappropriate) is not groping (offensive and genuine grounds for assault charges).

But, then the areas get grayer. I read of one of the recently accused (who had allegedly done worse things) of inviting a female employee to his apartment for a drink. Or of the apparently consensual campus hookups which are later called “assault” or “rape.”

It seemed pretty ridiculous when Vice President Mike Pence said that he would not be alone with a woman other than his wife. But, maybe he was on to something.

A lot of men have done a lot of awful things to women. (And a fair number of women have done some pretty bad things to men.) But, things have gone off the rails when men now live in fear that they will be branded with “sexual harassment” if they make a friendly pat on the arm, invite a female subordinate for coffee, or inadvertently touch a woman.

Let’s be clear: Real sexual assault and harassment are very wrong. But creating too many gray areas that leave men fearful of being accused and outed and ruined does not make for healthy relations between the sexes.

 

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We all know that it’s hard to be a young man these days, as just 7 in 10 18-to-34-year-olds work, more than one-third of them live with parents, and one-fifth are in poverty. While women are still more likely to be cheated by America’s unequal economy, young men also face complex and confusing issues about what it means to be “a man.”

Frederick Marx and his production company, Warrior Films, has focused for 20 years on the challenges that adolescent boys face in transitioning to manhood in a time when traditional macho masculine norms compete with newer norms about being expressive and nonsexist.

Best known for his award-winning, commercially successful documentary, “Hoop Dreams” (1994), about African American teen-agers in Chicago, Marx made a path-breaking film, “Boys to Men,” in 2003 about 32 boys in Newark, NJ,  of all classes who weren’t succeeding.

Marx gets the challenges, the confusion, and the anger among many young men and is working to enable young men to have better opportunities for successful, happy lives. He understands what it means to be angry about being without a job or a good job, living at home, drawn to alcohol or drugs, and existing in an “economy (that) doesn’t know he exists.”

“Boys are in much greater danger of not transitioning successfully into maturity,” Marx told me as I’ve been writing my book, “Man Out: How Millions of American Men Are Not Leading Productive Lives.”

Marx, who lives in California, has completed a new doc called “Rites of Passage” and is now writing an online advice column for young men, ”Man2Man.” As he says, quoting an African proverb, “If we don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat.”

The fact that too many Americans are struggling economically and that women are still the undervalued objects of discrimination and misogyny does not mean that the United States does not have a serious “man problem.” Check out Marx’s work and follow us (and send your thoughts at) www.manout.us.