By Juanita Westaby
Copyright 2005 The Grand Rapids Press
All rights reserved. Used with permission

We like to think our foreign policies are shaped in thoughtful conversations in the Oval Office, but some of them have been shaped in gym locker rooms where doing the wrong thing could earn a boy the title of sissy.

“Some believe some aspects of male socialization play out in our foreign policy,” said Randy Flood, a therapist and director of the Men’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids.

“There’s a lot of pressure on boys — and sometimes on men — to act tough. We’re not supposed to back down,” said Charlie Donaldson, also a director of the center. “Our national leaders fear compromise. They don’t want to face criticism for not being manly enough.”

Flood and Donaldson hosted a panel discussion at Fountain Street Church Tuesday night that talked of the “hyper-masculinity” that affects today’s world.

There emerged a few winners in the discussion. Secretary of State Colin Powell was praised among panelists.

Powell “is a voice of reason and caution,” said Simona Goi, an associate professor of political science for Calvin College.

While over-the-top masculinity in foreign policy “has once again become very dominant, the presence of General Powell shows that one can take an alternative stance and remain credible.”

Former President Jimmy Carter also was as a model of masculinity that knew how to compromise and negotiate, said Polly Divan, an associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University.

While independence is traditionally prized as a masculine trait, it’s really a state of interdependence that makes both men and foreign policy strong, panelists said.

“Nothing gets done in American politics that doesn’t get done without compromising and interdependence,” Divan said. “Maybe that’s not the image they project on CNN, but that’s what’s going on.”

A hyper-masculine attitude came out immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, noted George ZuiderVeen of Community Counseling and Personal Growth Ministries.

Men are taught, “Don’t let them see that they hurt you,” ZuiderVeen said. “It seemed very strange to me to have those towers come down and act like they didn’t get to us.”

It did get to us, ZuiderVeen said, noting that domestic violence assaults peaked immediately after the attacks. “Men cannot stand the feeling of helplessness,” he said.

One of the best things people do about such hot spots as Afghanistan and the Middle East is to read, he said.

“Get to those parts of the world. It’s very difficult to get into a ‘good guy, bad guy’ situation when you know eight out of 10 are a lot like you and just two are jerks,” ZuiderVeen said.