Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nitchification of Maledom

A little over a year ago I went up to the mountains with some friends from church on a "men's retreat." A type of activity that I honestly would typically shy away from.

In fact, I would typically say I shy away from most "men's activities" -- largely because I feel like I'm typically not the "man's man" that is attracted this type of event. Yet in 2013, I said "yes" to attend one of these events, incidentally encountering a handful of people on the way that year who were reluctant to attend for what were probably similar reasons on my part.

In a group discussion there was a moment where I started talking and spit out a phrase where I used the phrase "the nitchification of maledom."

Now believe me - this is not a real term (thank you, Google for allowing me to confirm this terminology is 100% pure original thoughts when I search it and return 0 search results), but conceptually let me explain the thought that I presented.

As men, we often relate to each other best through our hobbies, interest, and various affinities. It seems to me that often many women, particularly those who are part of a similar life stage can quickly connect whether it's discussing their children, their jobs, their spouse, their shoes, or a past event. One conversation leads to another and a conversation that started about someone's shoes leads to a life story about their career path, past relationships, hopes for the future, and everything in between. Men struggle in this way.

Yet, if are initial connection point, or even reason to hang out together is going to be these hobbies and interest, there's really nothing bad about that -- except it seems like there are so many different hobbies and interest that men have that you through 30 guys together and you might feel like no one shares your interest.

There's no need to connect stereotypes to people or hobbies, but in many cases I find that someone who is into hunting is likely not into surfing, or someone who is into video games is also not reading the financial times.

Just think about the potential for hobbies men have: golf, fishing, hunting motocross, mountain biking, jeeping, skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, surfing, animal husbandry, investing money, playing video games, sports collectibles, attending concerts, playing guitar, running marathons, weight lifting, and home improvement. When it comes to sports, particularly watching sports some men don't watch sports at all and others are absorbed in sports. Yet even those who are absorbed might be more interested in college sports or professional sports. Sports can range from baseball, basketball, soccer, football, boxing, golf or NASCAR. Participation in sports might vary in certain groups, and try to pull a group together to play baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, bike racing, ultimate Frisbee, golf or ice hockey and your group will shrink quickly.

The availability of various forms of male leisure (granted that leisure exist for both genders, but seems particularly expansive for men) creates this nitchification of maledom.

Even if a group of men want to talk about their interest outside of these more basic hobbies the group will likely find interest split, or people that are on the outskirts of the conversation. I experience this when friends discuss photography equipment, cars, camping, wine tastings or home brewing, the NBA draft, video games, military strategy, home repair projects, meat smoking technique, types of snowboards, firearms, contemporary male fashion, or favorite places to go rock climbing.

Putting a list like this together makes me feel like there's so many things I cannot discuss -- and frankly the effort it would take to even fake it half of these conversation would be life-consuming and frankly not worth it. I'm going to go buy a new set of water skis, rush home to watch world cup soccer while I watch youtube videos of John Deere tractors during the commercial breaks.

In the context of the retreat one of the solutions I made to men dividing along their interest is to avoid doing this by identifying with our core identity first. In terms of our church, I pitched the idea that our identity be in Christ not in fly fishing or our college football team's recruiting class. These secondary interest are good, but can't keep us from connecting with one another over areas of our foundational identity. In some cases, this might mean an identity shift from a life focused on stocks and bonds, gardening or the latest Call of Duty video game.

Practically -- there's something there, but it's a challenge, and even still the broad spectrum of possible interest can just easily bring us together as separate men from getting to know one another. And if we agree that there is something valuable in friendship and relationship among other men, then figuring out to connect in this midst of this nitchification of maledom is something I truly believe is worth working through. 

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