Cultivating the Well-Adjusted Male

As many of you probably know if you read more responsible Paleo bloggers than me, Paleo f(x) went down last week, April 11-13, in Austin, Texas. It was the usual amazing hoopla, with friends, food, and fun. This was my fourth Paleo gathering, so I won’t retread all the ins-and-outs, but suffice to say, if you haven’t come to meet your tribe, then you’re not really living.

Panelists from left: Ryan, Wolf, Smith, Max, Durant, Miller.

Panelists from left: Ryan, Wolf, Smith, Max, Durant, Miller. (Thanks to Chris Ryan for photo!)

Now that I’ve let it all percolate down through my consciousness, I can say that the single most thing that has stuck with me was the Cultivating the Well-Adjusted Male panel that featured author/podcaster Chris Ryan, Robb Wolf, evolutionary biologist J. Brett Smith, adventurer Tucker Max, OG caveman John Durant, and evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. What took place was a fascinatingly heartfelt and charged conversation about the plight of boys and men in our culture, expertly moderated by Keith Norris.

Now ladies, before you get your panties in a bunch, this ain’t about tit for tat (*ahem*). I will warn you ahead of time that I won’t be friendly about “B…b…but what about us?!” comments. This isn’t a conversation about who’s better or who has it worse or if this, then that. As I listened to the discussion, I didn’t feel excluded in the least. It made me think about my husband, my Dads, my brothers, my nephews, my friends, my friends’ kids, and how I want them all to live fully realized lives. I don’t have a son, but it sure made me want one, because that is a duty I would take very seriously. We’re all in this together no matter what sex, gender, or category you subscribe to. It may sound a bit melodramatic, but this is the way I feel—this is a human rights issue. What’s good for men is good for women is good for humans. So let’s set our egos aside to get to the heart of this.

When we look at the stats, men in our culture are in trouble. I’m just going to rattle off a few from memory: lower life expectancy, higher rate of suicide, lower rate of educational participation and higher rate of drop-out, higher rates of being drugged into submission (frightening article on that here). In short, men and boys are not buying what our culture is selling. And if they do, they do so at their own peril.

It’s easy to think that these are simple matters. We live in a culture that tries to distract us away from analyzing it, that asks us to rationalize it or blame it on individuals for being weak and maladapted. But then our culture doesn’t offer alternatives or—even worse—actively discourages and shames options that might actually be beneficial. Think of how we view, for example, hunters or men enjoying racecar driving.

These guys know what's up.

These guys know what’s up.

Everything we do affects us. Things we do everyday interact with us as organisms via hormones, our microbiome, and probably a million other ways. We get signals. The key is to interpret the signals and figure out a way to optimize ’em.

How this is done hardly matters. This is not about fulfilling some cliché version of manhood with guns and pornography. It might include those things depending on the individual, but it’s more about pushing an edge, having a sense of adventure and uncertainty, being allowed to solve problems, to compete, and to do the things that boys and men need to do to be boys and men without external ideas about how it should or shouldn’t be done. (This is a good place to, once again, recommend Peter Gray‘s work.) So a writer can be a more realized writer and a football player can be a more realized football player and a father can be a more realized father, or however this gets expressed, which will vary from person to person.

As an observer of Paleo culture for the past 3 1/2 years, I have to say, one of the things that has brought me the most delight is to see people rediscovering their inner potentials, a new spark for life. I’ve seen this in men in varying ways. Some are thrilled to be saving their bodies from the cliff of being overweight and unhealthy. Some are thrilled to PR their lifts. Some start new businesses. Some are inspired to change their lives in other ways, to get rid of things that drag them down. When I go to these conferences and see men embracing themselves and their potential, I gotta say—it’s pretty hot! (And isn’t that what this is really all about?)

So from a woman’s perspective, I want the men in my life to be happy, healthy, and strong, just as I want that for myself. But this requires some radical rethinking of our relations with each other: to give men space to do their thing, to be understanding when their needs don’t line up with ours, to resist telling them they’re wrong. Since we’re all in this together, the more we support and encourage each other toward fuller lives, the better off we’ll all be. This isn’t just the story of men in our culture, it’s a narrative that affects us all, and it’s time to talk about it.

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6 Responses to “Cultivating the Well-Adjusted Male”

  1. Just take a hard look at commercials. Men always look unattractive in an over fed kinda way. They look slow witted and confused, inept. While the women (wife) looks trim and together. Today’s media wouldn’t dare mock women as they need women on their side right now to help (subliminally) dumb the men down. So, they make all this an inside joke with the women viewers watching from home. This strategy has been effective. Men are living proof (as you point out) to the dumbed-down image they are presented as. The male self image is on life support while the feminist agenda always gets the glory in today’s media. (You go girl, girl power) Men are presented as irrelevant thus feel and act irrelevant. This is not a misogynistic rant, just an observation people may be missing. Whenever I get the opportunity I recommend quiting TV and mainstream media in general. Personal growth begins when you turn-off the hypnosis box.

  2. I can’t wait to catch some of the high points of PaleoFX! It is totally true that men have been made a mockery of. Humanity needs men to be manly… not a caricature of manliness, but actually manly. They don’t need to be feminized, that’s why we have women! Thank you for this article.

  3. Great post, Karen! And 2 quick corrections because we are trying very hard to work on our branding. It is Paleo f(x) <—- this is specifically the math equation for function, purposely. Also, you left out Keith Norris as the moderator, I know I am biased (in this instance) but our moderators make or break the panels and we really go out of our way to go for a specific style of moderation and they are the key to the success of our panels. So I've been making the rounds noticing when moderators are left off of posts, I want to be sure they get the kudos they deserve. Love you girl, wish we'd have had more time to spend together!!!

    • Thanks Michelle, I’ll make those edits. And yes, of course, Keith was a great moderator! It really was a panel with a lot of great chemistry. Thanks for making it happen!

  4. Fantastic review Karen! I love how this conference continues to inspire us to move these messages forward. You are so right! It isn’t a male thing or a female thing… It’s a human thing. Thanks for a great read and thought-provoking message.
    Stay healthy!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cultivating the Well-Adjusted Male | Paleo Digest - 04/21/2014

    […] Paleo Periodical / Posted on: January 01, 1970The Paleo Periodical – As many of you probably know if you read more responsible Paleo bloggers than me, Paleo F/X […]

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