Baby boomer men make up most of the senior management ranks. As a baby boomer myself, I grew up with these men and know what they were taught. We were raised with a societal framework that shaped our expectations for our lives.
It is important, especially for younger generations, to understand baby boomers because they have driven our society and businesses to where we are now – driven to achieve status above all else.
I was born at the tail end of the baby boomer generation. The culture and values I experienced growing up were already well entrenched within my generation. I knew that there was a hard line of distinction and an adversarial relationship between management and workers.
I remember several television shows about blue-collar life where the separation of workers and managers played out. In 1970 a TV show called Arnie aired. Arnie Nuvo worked on the loading dock and was content in his blue-collar life when suddenly and unexpectedly he gets promoted to Head of Product Improvement. His life is turned upside-down as he tries to stay connected to his blue collar friends of 20 years. But now that he was “management” he can’t always play poker with the guys or join them for a beer after work because he has to attend management functions. The guys make fun of him because instead of physical work, he walks around with a clip board and pencil taking notes.
Shows like Arnie, communicated our perceptions about work. When our parents went to work there was something tangible they produced. Trade and blue collar work such as welders, plumbers and truck drivers was physical and respectable work. We respected the milkman, the mailman and the garbage man. Professional work such as scientists, engineers and teachers, required a degree and was still tangible. Professional work didn’t necessarily provide a higher income than trade work. Our parents didn’t have an expectation that just because they had a degree they made more money than a trade worker. The common joke was that plumbers made more money than anyone except doctors.
The men who ran companies were called businessmen. They made deals and worked in offices but were still connected to a product. Actually, they were identified with a product.
There was a common factor in our parent’s work – we understood the benefit of their work to our community and to the country as a whole. When our parents went to work, we understood how they made our country a better place.
Back then management was this nebulous thing. What did it produce? What contribution did it make to society? What did managers do all day? We started seeing images of playing golf. Managers went to meetings and they talked a lot. And most importantly they made more money. Doing what? Our parents didn’t really understand but they understood their children should be managers.
We were told to get a degree, any degree was better than none. So if you didn’t make it through engineering or accounting you switched your major, you still got a degree. Most of us didn’t even think about going to an Ivy League university – we knew we (and our parents) couldn’t afford it. But we heard about that kid who was smart enough to get into Princeton, Yale or Havard on scholorship.
We also grew up with the images of the self-made man. We were taught to idolize the successful man who came from nothing but through perseverance accomplished greatness. We were taught to be self-reliant and that if we worked hard, we would be successful. We were told that people were poor because they were lazy, poor people were failures. We were taught that in America, anyone can be successful – the ability to be successful lies within each of us, it is up to us to make it happen.
After college when we entered the work force, the image of the self-made man, the person who made things happen was reinforced. We learned that to get ahead we had to become the “go-to person.” When there was a crisis we wanted to be selected as the person to go in and fix it because only the best of the best could fix the problem. We wanted to be the John Wayne of the business world.
Growing up church and religion was significant in our lives, it seemed everyone regularly went to church or synagogue. I attended Sunday school where I was taught the natural order of the world. I was taught that God created Man to have domain over the Earth – Man was to rule the earth and all its creatures. That is his destiny.
Yes, notice it is “Man’s” destiny. My mother sent us to Vacation Bible School every summer. One year, the little boy sitting next to me was told that his destiny was to command all of Earth’s creatures. I thought that was so cool – I immediately called dibbs on the lions- how great would that be to be in charge of all the lions on Earth!!
I was told “No.” It is man’s destiny. Women follow men. So, you mean this not too bright looking boy sitting next to me is going to be calling the shots and I have to do what he wants?? I was told “Yes.” I looked at the now smug boy and told him “You are not telling me what to do” and walked out to find my brother. For years I still held onto my dream that someday I would be in charge of the lions.
Girls were told we were inferior to boys and boys told they were superior to girls. Paternalism was the natural order. (Except in my house. My father believed women should have an education and be able to support themselves. His grandmother, mother, aunt and sister all went to college. Thank you Daddy!)
In Paternalism, the man is the head of the household, and as such makes decisions on behalf of others for their own good, even if it is contrary to their wishes. It is implied that the fatherly figure is wiser than other family members and acts in the best interest of his protected figures – Father Knows Best.
Every man no matter where he was in the male pecking order, could be assured that he would reach Alpha status even if it was only within his family unit. Even the Omega male could take solace in knowing he is above all women.
The eldest son would of course be the heir to the father’s position as the family patriarch. In my ex-husband’s family, my husband, who was the second child but eldest male was known as “Number 1 Son.” His younger brother was “Son Number 2.”
In our families there had to be a son, especially in the eldest son’s family – so the family name would carry on. This was super important to our parents! My husband and I had two daughters and for years my brother-in-law had no children. My in-laws wanted us to have a third child, hopefully a boy. It was a topic at Thanksgiving dinners. Luckily for them my brother-in-law eventually produced two sons.
Baby boomer men were taught to revere their fathers. They were told to wait for their time – that when they reached the appropriate age, (about 60 – 65) by the natural order of life they would assume their rightful place in society. The respect and reverence their fathers had, would now be theirs. This is especially true for the eldest son who took over as family patriarch. Because of the sacrifices and hard work of his father, the son was expected to achieve more in his life than his father. This is how his father would respect and be proud of him.
Our parents wore our success. It was their badge of honor. It didn’t matter what they achieved or didn’t achieve in their lives, what was important was the success they created for their children. There was a tremendous sense of pride in saying to their friends “look at what my son has achieved.”
So for baby boomer men there is a need for success and status. Whatever natural drive men have, was put on steroids for some men, as they tried to measure up to family expectations. (I had some female friends who felt the same intense pressure)
They want to be put up on a pedestal – being up there is their right, their destiny. It is what they have waited for and worked for.
Look at the calendar – it is prime time for baby boomer men to ascend to their rightful place!
For years, when I thought about the paternalism in our society I thought about a scene from The Lion King – Mufasa and Simba are up on Pride Rock looking out over the Pride Lands which the lions rule – they rule over all the other animals.
As women we may think that paternalism and this old fashioned order to life is what is holding us back. And just a few years ago I would have agreed. Who doesn’t believe that a big part of why Hillary didn’t get the Democratic nomination was because she was a woman?
But recently there is something else going on – something amongst the men. They are fighting amongst themselves so much that they have forgotten about us. What are they fighting about? Status.
We grew up with an order and expectation to our lives. We grew up understanding who the Alpha males were and what defined them. That definition is being challenged.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s the Intellectuals came into prominence. Intellectuals are the product of certain pretigious universities. These were the smart kids in our class. Not the dorky smart kids, but the class president and president of the Honor Society. Baby boomers from a humble background who got into an Ivy League school (Clinton and Obama) got there because of their superior intellect. In baby boomer terms having a superior intellect and a superior education means they should have superior status in society.
To Intellectuals superior intelligence trumps physical characteristics in determining the Alpha male.
So, Intellectuals created a new patriarchial order – because of their superior intellect they know what was best for us and should be telling us how to live our lives. They have risen in power and are well vested in our government, wall street and think tanks.
What is interesting about Intellectuals is that they generally have no real world experience to support their solutions nor any idea how to implement them. They are idea people. This naturally puts them in direct conflict with the Operational guys – the John Waynes of the business world, the ones who make things happen. If Operational guys don’t like Planners, they have absolutely no respect for Intellects.
In the last year or two there is a new twist to the conflict. Intellectuals are being challenged – not by the Planners and Operational guys (the traditional Alphas) but by the Geeks.
The Geeks are Anti-Intellectuals. They don’t believe you need a college education, least of all an Ivy League one, to be smart. (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs) For them, education does not equal intelligence.
The Geeks and Intellectuals are battling it out. I wonder if this is the real reason Facebook stock isn’t doing too well – the Wall Street Intellectuals are putting the Geeks in their place. Power struggle!
There is chaos in the male pecking order!!! Planners, Operations, Intellectuals or Geeks – who is the Alpha? Who will have the power over this next century?
How about none of them! What they haven’t understood yet is that the patriarchal (Biblical or Secular) male order is dead, gone, done. No one group is going to rise to power and dominate. They all have to work together – ideas, planners, techs and doers.
The all male order has taken us as far as it can. I like the saying “a weakness is a strength taken to extremes.” That is where we are with men. Their drive has advanced society but now is at an extreme where all that counts is status. Continued battles for status is leaving us fractionalized in a stalemate with no solutions and no action.
Again what is missing??
The female balance. The empowered women to add the connections between the men. Women to stand up for values and principles. Women to say it’s not about determining Alpha male status but about doing what is right for our community and country.
Sorry guys. In spite of what you were told, Man does not rule the Earth by himself. He is half of the whole. He has a partner. And it is past time to empower her.
Our businesses, society and culture urgently need her!
Empowered women will change society, culture and business from battle grounds for male status to enrichment zones that serve our communities and county.
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