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  • Reverend James Squire

Gender and Manhood

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

I never saw something regarding gender issues and manhood until I came across an opinion article, “Gender is the Undercurrent in Trumpism and Fracking” by Zach Rearick in the Inquirer (October 19, 2020). One of the assumptions of the article is that men need to “work with their hands” and need to “get dirty” to keep their self esteem and identity.

There are complex competing psychological strands that I experienced first-hand that underscores the accuracy of Rearick’s point of view.

I cover the issues in my memoir, The Times Of My Life. What separates the blue-collar worker from the rest of the world is that working-class people work with their hands more so than their minds. That was a primary piece of my identify when I was old enough to get into a factory to earn money to help support the family and to assure that I would be able to go to college. My father had a 6th grade education and my mother graduated from high school in the secretarial track. Dad worked hard as a butcher and my mother was a stay at home mom.

Real men worked in factories such as I did. I loaded skids in a paint factory, was a laborer in a steel mill (one of the best examples of manhood), and was a lathe worker in a ball bearing plant. When I finished a day’s work at the paint factory, I couldn’t lift my arms from loading heavy boxes of gallons of paint. When I finished a day at the steel mill where I worked primarily in the coke plant converting coal to coke to fuel the open-hearth furnaces, I had muscles that ached, and a body that was black with coal dust. When I worked at the ball bearing company, I was bored to death at the end of a shift creating those little small steel balls. But all of these jobs produced a psychological swagger, if you will, producing high self-esteem based in a working with your hands mentality. That was my idea of what a blue-collar man should be. When people asked me what I did, I could identify my various jobs with great pride.

There was just one very large problem. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing any of that kind of work even though that is where my self-esteem was based. I wanted out! At the same time, I was hedging my bet by doing very well in school so off I went to college where you worked with your mind. That produced fake self-esteem as it is difficult to change self-esteem centers in one’s psyche and soul.

Having a better life through technology and working with your mind can be threatening to your manhood. Real men don’t do that particularly when you live in a family, go to a school, and live in a community that doesn’t value that stuff. “Why do you want to go to college again?”

This is what is scaring male voters today when they hear about changes to the work place from “hands work” to “head work”. “Will I be as good at this “head work” as I was with “hands work”? A promise of a better life is not just about money, it is about gender where your manhood rests and what is a source of your self-esteem. A fear of failure in this “brave new work world”, is at the heart of why Trump gets his working-class votes. He works against the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mindset. The promise of better jobs for more money by working with your mind can be threatening. Keep in mind that we will always need the “hands work” people in the workplace.

Lucky for me I loved to learn new things and was quite good at school studying at some of the best universities in the nation and eventually having a mind and soul job. I also had a risk/benefit/analysis attitude to the precarious nature of my identify and self -esteem that shaped my manhood. The risk/benefit/analysis seemed worth a try. But you never really forget where you came from. For me and others, I took the middle-class work ethic with me that is a way of keeping the best of the blue-collar world.

We need to reimagine what constitutes manhood with a soul. Otherwise there will be no identity as manly, no self-esteem, and no moving up to the “mind class” so men have a real choice about taking that direction.

Let’s keep in mind that some men actually “choose” to work with their hands. They love it and wouldn’t trade it! Let’s not forget that this is an issue for women as well or why would Trump use the term “suburban housewives”. It was very 50(s) of him! It drove women crazy to hear it!

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