Category Archives: Marriage and Relationships

Swing Volume 2: Evolution Of A (Uniquely Sexy) Romance

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Every relationship is different. How they come together and how they stay together varies from couple to couple. Some work perfectly fine a traditional, monogamous setup. You marry one person and that’s who you make love to, till death do you part. There’s nothing wrong with that and plenty of great love stories can be told from it.

However, that approach doesn’t work for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. It’s just more challenging to tell a non-monogamous love story without it becoming overly pornographic. That didn’t stop Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, with help from artist Linda Sejic, from telling a genuine, compelling love story about non-monogamy in “Swing: Volume 1.”

When I reviewed this graphic novel last year, I highlighted how it perfectly balanced the romance with the sex appeal. The first part of the story was about how its two protagonists, Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln, fell in love. Then, after settling into married life, complete with two kids and decent careers, they sought to recapture that passionate spark that helped bring them together.

It culminated with them navigating the colorful world of open relationships. At the same time, it laid the foundation for a deeper romantic journey in a future sequel. Having waited anxiously for over a year, I can safely say that “Swing: Volume 2” was worth the patience. This book doesn’t just continue Dan and Cathy’s journey. It takes the sexiness and romance to new heights.

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The story picks up where the first book left off. Dan and Cathy got their first state of the non-monogamous lifestyle and they liked it. That’s made abundantly clear through Yishan Li and Linda Sejic’s art in first several pages. However, that’s not the end of their romantic journey. It’s just another step in the process.

Now that Dan and Cathy are in this sexy new world, their next challenge is successfully navigating it. Having a few threesomes is fun, but the swinging world of non-monogamy is much bigger. It’s also a world that requires Dan and Cathy to confront certain aspects of their relationship that they’ve never had to deal with before.

While Dan admits that he’d been with multiple women, Cathy has only been intimate with one man. She lived a more sheltered life, which was nicely established in the first book. The second book builds on that, showing that there are parts of her sexuality that she hasn’t explored. That desire to explore this world is what helps drive the plot and the drama in “Swing: Volume 2.”

A taste of that drama.

Yes, there is drama. It’s not all fun sexy time all the time. While those times are certainly present, Hawkins and Cheung make this exploration feel genuine and believable. From how Cathay and Dan establish a set of rules to how they struggle to find compatible partners, the various details of the story come off as something that can happen in the real world.

There are triumphs and setbacks. Some of those setbacks make for the funniest moments of the story. Like any relationship, an open relationship takes a great deal of work. Dan and Cathy find that out the hard way on more than one occasion. That only makes the fruits of their labor satisfying, both in terms of plot and sex appeal.

Compared to the first book, “Swing: Volume 2” has a lot more sex appeal and I’m not just referring to Li and Sejic’s graphic, yet tasteful depictions. There are plenty of scenes that involve exposed body parts, intimate love scenes, and overt innuendo that anyone’s inner 13-year-old will recognize. However, it never comes off as crude or gratuitous.

The overall tone of “Swing: Volume 2” is very much in keeping with the sex positive themes of its predecessor. It also does something important with those themes. As the story unfolds, we see how Cathy and Dan’s relationship evolves. Before, they were just a typical married couple looking to spice things up. Now, their relationship has gained greater complexity and, most importantly, it’s better because of it.

Both characters get an opportunity to narrate parts of the story. We get insights into their thoughts and feelings, revealing how they each approach this new facet of their relationship. Dan shows his share of insecurities, at times. Cathy’s reservations also crop up, as well. There are times she feels things that she doesn’t express and that causes some tension.

They make an effort to establish rules and boundaries. Many of them feel like concepts that actual couples who have navigated the world of open relationships would exercise. When the rules work, Dan and Cathy’s relationship benefits. When they don’t, even when it’s not intentional, it causes problems.

The problems never get overblown, but they don’t get brushed aside either. If “Swing: Volume 2” has an overarching theme, it’s that the world of open relationships is difficult. It’s not for everyone. It’s not the kind of thing that’ll fix a trouble relationship, either. Dan and Cathy make very clear that they love each other. Venturing into an open relationship wasn’t meant to fix that. It was meant to make their lives more exciting.

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Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say that Hawkins and Cheung once again succeed in making all these dramatic elements work. There’s never a point where “Swing: Volume 2” feels too focused on sex or too focused on romance. It seamlessly blends the two together so that they complement one another, as any good love story should.

There is romance.

There is eroticism.

There is personal growth for both these characters.

Along the way, you don’t just find yourself rooting for them or their relationship. You can’t help but be curious to see where this journey takes them. Like real relationships, there’s no endgame or culmination in mind. This isn’t that type of story. The lives of Dan and Cathy stay firmly grounded in a realistic setting. That’s part of what makes it so impactful, as a story.

That’s not to say that “Swing: Volume 2” is without flaws. There are parts of the story that feel a bit truncated. A few dramatic moments don’t come off as intense as they’re set out to be. There are also other characters that don’t get fleshed out as much, despite them showing potential in the first volume.

It doesn’t stop the overall story from fitting together seamlessly. The story effectively builds on the foundation that the first one established while ramping up the passion along the way. It’s compelling, heartfelt, and sexy. Between the mature themes and the beautiful artwork, “Swing: Volume 2” stands out as a fitting slice-of-life style comic in a sea of superheroes and spectacles.

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If I had to score “Swing: Volume 2,” I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10. If you’re looking for something different, mature, and even a little risqué, then this book will check all the right boxes and then some. I’m not saying it’ll give all monogamous couples second thoughts, but it’ll give more than a few some interesting ideas.

To purchase “Swing: Volume 2,” please do so through Comixology, Amazon, or your local comic shop.

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Filed under comic book reviews, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, romance

When Sex Is Divorced From Reproduction: The Possibilities And Implications

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Relatively speaking, it wasn’t that long ago in humanity’s history when finding food was a matter of survival. It wasn’t as simple as walking into the nearest grocery store and buying whatever was on sale. Individuals, governments, and societies dedicated a good chunk of their time and energy into securing a stable food source. Those who didn’t were usually the first victims of the next famine.

These days, getting a meal is less about survival and more about logistics. Thanks to major advances in agricultural science, including those of the late Norman Borlaug, we have so much abundant food that overeating is now a bigger problem than famine. Hunger is still a major issue for certain parts of the world, but it’s more a logistical issue than a resource issue.

Once food was divorced from famine and survival, it changed the way society approached it. Most people don’t even think about where they’re going to get their next meal. Their main concern is whether it’ll be a tasty meal.

With this critical need met, we can focus more time and energy on other matters. Even before science gave us abundant food, sex and reproduction was usually our second most pressing focus. It’s the other powerful drive that unites us all as a species. As a result, it’s subject to all sorts of taboos and has been central to multiple revolutions.

There’s no question that technology has impacted sexuality every bit as much as it impacted food production. Even advances unrelated to sex, especially anti-biotics, affected various attitudes and norms. However, even with these advances, sex maintains much of its primary function in that it’s still necessary for reproduction.

With that in mind, what happens when that’s no longer the case?

What happens to sex when it’s completely divorced from reproduction?

This isn’t another speculative thought experiment. This process is already unfolding. I would argue that it started on July 25, 1978 when the first baby was born from in vitro fertilization. Since then, over 8 million babies have been born through this technology. That is not a trivial number when we’re dealing with human lives.

Just take a step back to appreciate the implications of these lives. They were all conceived and birthed without sex. In centuries past, this was grounds for a miracle that could serve as a basis for a major religion. These days, it’s so routine that it never makes the news. Most people don’t think about it. It helps that these people are just as healthy and prosperous as those who were conceived with sex.

In the near future, this could change as well. Late last year, our technology went a step further beyond conceiving babies through in vitro fertilization with the birth of the first genetically edited babies in China. Now, it’s not just normal babies being born through this technology. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, children born without sex could be healthier and stronger than those conceived through sex.

Again, that is not a trivial detail. It’s one thing for technology to simply match a natural process, especially one as critical as human reproduction. Once it starts doing it better than nature, then that’s a huge paradigm shift. It might even be a point of no return. Having babies through sex is still a thing, but it’s no longer the most effective way to have healthy, strong children.

While this has generated plenty of controversy around topics like designer babies, there hasn’t been as much discussion about what this means for sex. If sex is no longer the primary method for reproduction, or the safest for that matter, what happens to our society? What happens to centuries of taboos, attitudes, traditions, and gender roles?

It’s difficult to speculate, but some have tried. In a recent article with the BBC, author Henry T. Greely laid out a general timeline. It doesn’t rely entirely on huge leaps in reproductive technology. It simply follows the trends that began with in vitro fertilization. In the interview, these are just a few thoughts he shared.

In 20 to 40 years, most people all over the world with good health coverage will choose to conceive in a lab. Like most things, there will be a fair amount of visceral negative reaction initially, but as time goes on and kids prove not to have two heads and a tail, the public will come not only to tolerate but to prefer reproducing non-sexually.

From a logistic and public health standpoint, this makes sense. Any healthy and prosperous society would want to promote the birth of healthy children in a manner that preserves the health of the mother. With technology like in vitro and CRISPR, it might very well be preferable because it means fewer diseases, lower health care costs, and fewer burdens on parents.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of more advanced reproductive technologies. With advances like artificial wombs in development, sex wouldn’t just be divorced from reproduction. Reproduction might not require any intimate connection whatsoever. At that point, sex for reproduction is akin to drinking unpasteurized milk.

Will people still have sex at that point? I believe they will. Unless we radically change our bodies all at once, the hardware for sex will still be present. The drive to do it will still be there as well, although some might opt to turn it off if that were an option. Regardless of any lingering attitudes and taboos, there’s no getting around it. Sex still feels good. It’s still a profoundly intimate act with many health benefits.

How people go about it will likely change. A great many taboos about sex stem from its role in reproduction. Much of the stigma surrounding promiscuity and traditional gender roles have a basis in highlighting the importance of sex in the propagation of our society and species. If are reckless about it, then that can spread disease, destabilize families, and create unhealthy environments for children.

Going back to the parallels with food, the same logic was once used to discourage gluttony. For much of human history, we had to be careful with how we consumed our food. If people consumed too much and were reckless with our eating habits, then they were ill-prepared for the next famine that inevitably came.

While sex and reproduction are still very different from consuming food, the influence of technology had a major impact on collective attitudes. We don’t look at people who overeat the same way we look at people who have lots of sex. Both may still draw scorn, but few will worry for the survival of the future of their community if a handful of people overeat.

At the moment, there are very real concerns surrounding falling birth rates and people having less sex than ever before. In some countries, the low birth rates are seen as an outright crisis that has also fueled ongoing debates surrounding immigration. Crisis or not, this situation is adding more urgency to the development of reproductive technologies. That, along with the decline in sex, could hasten this pending divorce.

Once it’s finalized, what form will sex take? It could simply become an act of intimacy or recreation. Humans might ultimately treat it the same way Bonobo monkeys treat it. It’s just an intimate activity that people do. Reproduction never even enters the conversation. People save that for when they want to design their baby.

It could also gain another purpose entirely. Maybe sex becomes less an act of intimacy and more an elaborate handshake, of sorts. It could be seen as a way of establishing trust or differentiating between casual acquaintances and close friends. In that world, friends with benefits are just friends. The benefits are implied by the friendship.

There’s also the very real possibility that people will just lose interest in sex. If there’s no reason to do it and it has no bearing on the growth of a society, then it just might be an afterthought. People might still do it, but those who do would be like the people who still have their own gardens in the backyard. It’s a quaint echo of our past that most have moved past.

These are possibilities. For now, there are no inevitabilities with respect to how we’ll approach sex once it’s no longer necessary for reproduction. It’ll likely be several decades before reproductive technology gets to a point where it’s preferable to sex, both for individuals and societies at large. Until then, this lengthy divorce is already at the early stages. It’s just a matter of how messy it’ll get in the coming years.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, futurism, gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, technology

How Smiling Became A Feminist Issue (For Terrible Reasons)

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What would you think of someone who randomly walked up to you, sensed you looked sad, and suggested something that is scientifically proven to make you feel better? The person doesn’t force it on you. They don’t offer their advice to be smug or facetious. They just see a fellow human in distress and offer to help. By nearly every measure, the person is being a compassionate, decent human being.

Now, having contemplated that scenario, what would you think of a man who walked up to a woman and asked her to smile? While some might not see that as too big a deal, it has become a serious issue in recent years. It may not be the most absurd since it doesn’t involve Wonder Woman’s armpit hair, but it’s still up there.

The scenario I just described is something that, from a purely superficial level, may not seem controversial. Telling someone to smile, regardless of whether they’re a man or a woman, is not just an empty platitude. There is real, legitimate science behind it.

Research has shown that the mere act of smiling has many health benefits, such as improving mood, relieving stress, and strengthening immune function. To some extent, it helps rewire our brain in a way that directly combats depression, anxiety, and all sorts of ailments. It might be the easiest thing anyone can do to feel better. If it were a drug, it would be hailed as a medical breakthrough.

Why then has smiling become such a point of contention? While linking it to sexism is full of many absurdities, there are legitimate grievances that helped make this an issue. I know I’m going to upset people when I talk about this, but I believe it’s worth talking discussing, if only to preserve the benefits of smiling.

From the perspective of those protesting being told to smile, many of which identify as feminists or left-leaning, the issue isn’t about those aforementioned benefits. It’s about people telling them to be happy in a world where they don’t feel like equals. Considering how unequal things were for women throughout history, that’s an understandable sentiment.

Plenty of inequality lingers.

The situation for these women didn’t involve kind strangers walking up to them when they were sad and telling them to smile. It likely involved bosses, spouses, teachers, and various authority figures telling them to smile because frowning wasn’t lady-like. Even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, it’s easy to see why that would seem condescending.

In some situations, it was even worse. In service jobs, which are often dominated by women, telling them to smile is like asking them to act as a billboard for an organization. They’re treated as a pretty face rather than a person. It’s the male equivalent of being treated as a cog in an assembly line.

That sort of treatment is dehumanizing and people, regardless of gender, resent that and for good reason. In that context, telling a woman to smile is no different than telling her to just shut up and accept everything the way it is, no matter how much she resents it. While that’s rarely the intent, that’s the interpretation.

Most reasonable people can and do acknowledge the sentiments that women feel in those situations. Nobody likes being told to just smile and accept your misery. However, the issue descends into absurdity when telling someone to smile is famed as a byproduct of sexism. It effectively politicizes the very concept of smiling.

As a result, it fosters this idea that a woman cannot smile and be feminist. It’s an idea that has become more mainstream in recent years. To see how, just Google “modern feminist” and look at the images that come up. Very few of the faces that come up are smiling. There’s no Rosie the Riveter. There’s only angry, outraged women yelling to the point where it’s a common meme.

This isn’t just an issue with respect to the popular perception of feminists. When it comes to faces, there’s a great deal of intrinsic biology and neuroscience at work. Seeing an angry face triggers a very different reaction compared to seeing a smiling face. Some of that reaction transcends even extends to other species.

There are also significant differences in how people react to smiling men compared to smiling women. The extent to which that difference is biological is not clear, but unlike many other behavioral traits, smiling is directly tied to many psychological and physiological forces. Tying smiling to ongoing debates about gender is one nobody can win. Like it or not, you can’t debate around biology.

Then, there’s the other side of the gender equation, specifically the one regarding the male perspective. While this perspective is less obvious, it does add some other complexities that often fall through the cracks during these arguments. This is where I can offer some perspective, as a man, because I can attest to this impact.

Whatever you think about the nature of masculinity, it’s a well-documented fact that male brains are wired differently compared to female brains. One of those differences stems from how we react to women in distress. Whether they’re angry or sad, seeing it can trigger that protective instinct that men often feel around women.

I can attest that this instinct is real. A few years back, I was walking down the boardwalk at a beach. It was a loud, rowdy place in the middle of summer so there was plenty of noise. Then, out of nowhere, I heard this woman scream. Almost immediately, I turned towards it and I wasn’t the only one. Several other men, as well as a few women, took notice as well.

The woman had badly hurt herself on her bicycle. I’d rather not describe the injury so I’ll just say she couldn’t stand on her left leg. Thankfully, she was with a couple of friends and they immediately aided her. However, her cries caught the attention of plenty of men, most of them total strangers.

While some with more cynical attitudes may think of that reaction as white knighting, I can assure you it’s a real phenomenon. Men sensing a woman in distress evokes a reaction that stems directly from our natural inclination to form social bonds and protect others. Since women are the ones who bear the babies, we tend to give them extra scrutiny.

That’s not to say that a man telling a woman to smile is always an altruistic act. It doesn’t overlook the situations in which someone uses that rhetoric to denigrate women and make light of the issues they face. However, if the simple act of smiling becomes part of the line that divides feminists from misogynists, then the entire debate surrounding gender becomes obscure.

Telling a woman to smile is not the same as telling her to get back in the kitchen. In addition, making outrage the face of female empowerment won’t help in addressing legitimate issues. It’ll just frame every discussion as something hostile and unreasonable. No matter how legitimate the issues are, it’s difficult to have a meaningful discussion in that situation.

Objectively speaking, smiling is good for you, regardless of gender. It’s something I encourage everyone to do when they’re feeling upset, depressed, or angry. It’s a small gesture and one that doesn’t solve problem, in and of itself.

However, it can help your in many ways, especially if you’re hoping to connect with others in a way that ensures they’ll listen. There are many issues surrounding men, women, and gender that are worth discussing. Making the act of smiling a rallying cry for gender conflicts will only ensure that nobody succeeds in the long run.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Polygamy Vs. Consensual Non-Monogamy: Is There A Difference?

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When it came to dissecting the absurdities of language, nobody did it better than George Carlin. Beyond being one of the funniest comedians of all time, Carlin could break down certain concepts in a way that was as insightful as it was hilarious. His brilliant analysis of what he called “soft language” is more relevant now than it was when he was still performing.

Given the rise of outrage culture, I often wish George were still alive today so that he could tear the absurdities down, as only he could. We can only imagine how he would’ve tackled issues like fake news, alternative facts, and toxic masculinity. At the very least, his legacy of attacking soft language lives on.

In his book, “Parental Advisory,” Carlin defined soft language as terminology people use to help them avoid unpleasant truths. It helps fat people feel better about being “morbidly obese.” It helps poor people feel better about being “economically disadvantaged.” It helps drug addicts feel better about being “substances abusers.”

The face of a man who didn’t buy such bullshit.

Whatever the case, no matter how many colorful words people utilize, the underlying theme is the same. There are certain aspects of reality that bother some people, so they decide to re-frame it in a way that feels less serious and more palatable. It’s rarely overt. There’s rarely an official announcement or anything. Most of the time, it’s just a trend that people forget is absurd.

This leads me to the emerging concept of “consensual non-monogamy.” It’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s a form of a non-monogamous relationship in which both partners grant one another permission to seek sexual or romantic entanglements with others. Sometimes it involves certain rules and boundaries that are openly negotiated. The key is that there is consent and understanding at all levels.

This is not a new idea. If it sounds a lot like polyamory, an idea I’ve touched on before, that’s because it is for the most part. It’s a non-monogamous relationship that people pursue for any number of reasons. It’s actually one of humanity’s oldest forms of relationships and some even argue that it’s more natural than monogamy.

I’m not going to argue how natural or unnatural such practices are, but I think this latest manifestation of soft language requires scrutiny. Like every other kind of soft language, these sorts of linguistic quirks don’t evolve randomly. There’s often a method behind the absurdity and while I’m not as brilliant as Carlin, I have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening.

In terms of definitions, there isn’t that much difference between polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Logistically, though, there are a few complexities that differentiate the two practices. They’re minor, but relevant to the extent that inspired soft language.

While there hasn’t been much research into consensual non-monogamous couples, the little we do have paints a fairly comprehensive narrative. In these relationships, there is a “primary” partner who holds the role of spouse/lover. This is the partner with which they love and seek to share their lives with. They’re the ones whose names are on emergency contact forms, loan applications, and wills.

Beyond the primary partner are all the girlfriends/boyfriends with which the sexy stuff occurs. The extent and motives behind these encounters are communicated and understood with the primary partner. Every couple is different so the boundaries vary. Some couples have to be together when they’re getting sexy with others. Some are okay with it happening more randomly.

If that sounds a lot like polyamory, then congratulations. You’re starting to understand how George Carlin thought. While polyamory has its own dictionary definition, it’s connotations are not the same as consensual non-monogamy. What people think of when they hear the word “polyamory” conjures different mental images than a term like consensual non-monogamy.

Polyamory, for better or for worse, is one of those terms that has a certain level of linguistic baggage. It’s less associated with the free-spirited couples who get their own reality show and more with outdated traditions associated with polygamous marriages. Think “Big Love” rather than “Friends With Benefits.”

Now, I know I’ll upset those in the polyamorous community for just hinting at that association. For that, I apologize. I know most who identify as polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous don’t like being associated with the kinds of practices that are often associated with horrific crimes. That gets to the heart of where this soft language comes from.

Even if the principles are the same, those sexy free-spirited couples have a valid incentive to set themselves apart from polyamory. It doesn’t matter the disturbing practices of extreme religious cults are only a small subset of polyamorous relationships. They’re distressing enough for most reasonable people.

I dare you to find something more creepy.

As a result, a less broad term emerges. Consensual non-monogamy may have a few extra syllables, but it feels more technical and official. It’s harder to apply to the more distressing aspects of polyamory because it emphasizes consent, a concept that has only become more heated in recent years.

You can’t have child marriages or even arranged marriages of any kind under consensual non-monogamy. It would undermine the whole “consensual” part of the term. In that context, it’s understandable that this kind of term would emerge. There’s nothing in the definition of polyamory that weeds out those negative associations. Rather than actually confront it, soft language acts as a filter.

Given the frequency with which the negative aspects of polygamy still occur, it’s hard to blame those who practice consensual non-monogamy for wanting to set themselves apart. As those relationships become increasingly acceptable, there will be an increasing desire to frame it in a particular way and “consensual non-monogamy” checks all the right boxes.

It emphasizes consent.

It implies choice and personal freedom.

It’s technical, but doesn’t completely undercut the sex appeal.

Even if the definitions aren’t that different, consensual non-monogamy still does just enough to set itself apart from polyamory. In terms of soft language, it adds some critical, but necessary complications to something that is still subject to plenty of taboos. In a perfect world, such a differentiation wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, that’s not the kind of world we live in.

Sadly, indeed.

I like to think even Carlin would understand that some amount of soft language is necessary. Whether you call it consensual non-monogamy or polyamory, how we think about these ideas are going to affect our attitudes towards it. If consensual non-monogamous couples don’t want to be associated with crackpot religious cults, then they have every right to set themselves apart.

That said, it’s also entirely possible that more soft language will emerge as consensual non-monogamy becomes more mainstream. Love, sex, and relationships are complicated and human beings are uniquely talented at complicating things. Years from now, we may not call it consensual non-monogamy. We may use something along the lines of “mutually non-binding romantic intimacy relationship agreements.”

At that point, hopefully someone will have picked up on the absurdities. George Carlin may no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate more bullshit in a world that already has too much of it.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality

The (Unequal) Gender Politics Of Divorce

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There are a handful of words that evoke a special kind of dread. I’m not just talking about racial slurs, crushing insults, or George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words. There’s one word that evokes dread that transcends race, gender, and political affiliation. That word is divorce. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing.

I can personally attest to the impact of that word. I have many close friends, relatives, and family members who have gone through divorce. I’ve seen, first-hand, how devastating it can be to individuals and their family. It can be every bit as devastating on children as well. While there is certainly a benefit for spouses and children who escape an abusive relationship, there can still be lasting scars.

Most people agree that divorce is a pretty traumatic experience. It is very much the antithesis of the love, connection, and intimacy we seek in others. It is against everything I generally write about on this website. However, divorce is a significant part of our society.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the old “half of all marriages end in divorce” saying is not in line with the data. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate in 2015 was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. That actually represents a significant decline since the 1980 when the divorce rate was nearly 23 per 1,000 marriages.

Whatever the rate is, the effects of divorce are still devastating and heartbreaking. Those effects also get lost in a lot of doom-saying surrounding marriage and the state of the family, which is often led by religious zealots and reactionary pundits. Beyond even the tragic and painful stories surrounding divorce, there is another element to it that often goes overlooked.

Unfortunately, it has to do with gender disparities and I’ve learned in the course of writing about this topic, this often brings out some heated debates. I expect that to hold true more than usual on this issue because it’s already so emotionally charged. On top of that, there’s plenty of data to show that when it comes to marriage and divorce, men and women are not on the same page.

The first major indicator of that disparity is shown in who does the proposing. Even in today’s more progressive climate, men are still the ones who propose 90 percent of the time. Despite the many running jokes about men being afraid to commit, they’re still the ones who pop the question. While more and more women are starting to propose, this gap is still significant.

The second indicator, which I’m sure is going to inflame ongoing gender conflicts, has to do with who initiates divorce. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 80 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Again, that’s not a trivial gap. That implies there’s a major disconnect at work and it’s not getting better, even as more people remain single.

The reasons for women initiating divorce are many. I don’t want to get too deep into them, but there are many conflicting narratives. There are those who see marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression and divorce is tool of liberation. On the other side are those who claim marriage is just an institutional tool that women use to exploit men for resources with divorce being the oversized sledge hammer.

With the added complication of no fault divorce, alimony laws, and child support, there are more legal mechanisms than ever to rub salt in the wound that is divorce. It’s not enough for a relationship to end and for romance to fade. Involving lawyers and lawmakers adds multiple layers of heartbreak and frustration to the mix.

This is where the gender divide can get especially hostile. On top of the disparity in who proposes and who divorces, there’s also a significant divide in how these laws affect each gender. Even though women have gained much more economic independence over the years, 97 percent of the ex-spouses who receive alimony after a divorce are women.

Add the ease of no-fault divorce into the mix and there’s a painful incentive for women to initiate divorce. If the choice is staying in a boring marriage or leaving with some money without having to prove any wrongdoing, then who could blame someone for taking that option? It’s still heartbreaking and hurtful, but people are going to respond to incentives, regardless of gender.

It certainly hasn’t helped gender relations. Many unabashed misogynists will cite how many women receive alimony and use that to claim that all women are manipulative psychopaths who only see men as a wallet or a sperm bank. Those kinds of generalizations are crude, but when you can cite real-world cases of unapologetic gold digging among women, it’s easy to see where that hatred comes from.

Personally, I don’t believe that hatred is justified. Most men don’t see women with that kind of hostility. In principle, alimony exists to protect women who would otherwise be in poverty after divorce. That is reasonable and well-intentioned. In practice, though, it’s a legal tool that can be abused and further foster hateful attitudes.

The data for who gets primary custody of children is just as striking. According to Census data, 82 percent of mothers get custody after divorce. That same set of data also notes that this stat hasn’t changed much over the past 20 years. That, in my opinion, is the most frustrating aspect of this issue.

Despite all the other changes and trends we’ve seen in recent years with feminism, men’s rights activism, and evolving trends in marriage, there hasn’t been much change in the overall narrative. Even as feminists bemoan patriarchal oppression and men’s rights activities protest gender-driven injustice, the rhetoric rarely translates into meaningful change.

I understand that some relationships are just doomed from the start. I also understand that the nature of romance is changing in accord with culture, society, and law. However, the lack of change in the fundamentals of how we pursue marriage and manage divorce is confusing and even a little infuriating.

Women seek, and have gained, a great deal of rights and protections in pursuing their own path within a more egalitarian society. At the same time, they still hold onto traditions surrounding relationships. They still expect the man to propose and to support her in the event of divorce. I doubt that’s out of malice. This is just what we, as a society, consider normal.

At the same time, men are pursuing their own brand of rights and protections within this society. Issues like father’s rights and reforms to family courts all have a place in pursuing a more equitable system. Even so, men still expect women to play a certain role within a relationship while assuming too much about their own role.

It’s an untenable situation. Society is guiding the genders in one direction while they’re pulling towards another. The old narrative surrounding divorce is just not compatible with the one that’s emerging. The situation today is very different than it was in 1908. Laws, culture, and even the economy are changing the factors that guide divorce. The only thing that doesn’t change is the pain of a broken relationship.

As it stands, men and women both seem to want more equality in the tragic realm of divorce. However, they each seem to have very different ideas of what constitutes “equality.” The narrative, as it stands, is built around men pursuing women and women deciding when that pursuit is over. Anything that deviates from that is seen as abnormal or absurd.

Every relationship is different. Every individual is different. There are probably some women out there who divorce out of blind hatred and there are men who marry women they have no intention of loving for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of vindictive people out there and divorce is a weapon that needs no sharpening.

The late, great Robin Williams once said that “Divorce is like ripping a man’s genitals out through his wallet.”

Feminist, Gloria Steinem, once said “You become a semi-non person when you get married. The surest way to be alone is to get married.”

These attitudes nicely reflect the current gender divide when it comes to divorce. Until that gap is narrowed, the heartbreak and hatred inspired by divorce will only get worse. Men and women have enough reasons to clash with one another. Divorce just makes it worse by giving that animosity legal powers.

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Why The Republic Of Gilead Would Fail (Spectacularly) In The Real World

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In recent years, there has been a great deal of dread among feminists, libertarians, and supporters of secular values in the United States. The country seems to be going down an authoritarian path. Traditions of liberty and personal freedom are under threat by a government that seems more inclined to micromanage peoples’ lives for their own benefit.

One path in particular is becoming a lot more prominent. That is the one that could lead the United States to a government like that of the Republic of Gilead, the repressive theocratic regime from Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In that system, gender politics are pushed to the utmost extreme. The freedom, equality, sex, and love that contemporary society enjoys doesn’t exist.

The reasons for these fears are many. The current state of gender politics has become heated with the rise of the anti-harassment movement and ongoing legal battles surrounding abortion access. During the protests surrounding upheavals on the Supreme Court, it was common to see female protesters dressed in the distinct garb from the “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Such protest has even spread to other countries.

The message is clear. People are worried that our society is inching closer to a world similar to the repressive gender politics of Gilead. I can certainly understand those concerns. While I’ve often criticized certain aspects of gender politics, I don’t deny the worry that many women feel about the current state of affairs.

That said, I believe the idea that the United States, or any western country for that matter, could descend into a state of gender apartheid like Gilead is absurd. While we should be concerned about the influence of religious extremism, even in the west, the chances of it ever gaining power on the level depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is precisely zero.

Even if a regime like it came to power, it wouldn’t just fail quickly. It would collapse so spectacularly that it would be a joke on par with the Emu War. Gilead is not this all-encompassing, overwhelming power on par with Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” Atwood even implied at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that the regime was set to fall.

We’ve yet to hear that part of the story, but Atwood did announce that she’s working on a sequel. One way or another, Gilead’s days are numbered, even in the fanciful world that she created. Before then, I’d like to break down why the Republic of Gilead would be doomed if it ever attempted to set up shop in the real world.

If nothing else, I’d like to offer some perspective to those who fear that the state of gender politics is regressing. To those people, I share your concerns. However, I’m an optimist. I believe both feminists and men’s rights activists can and will find plenty of common ground on these issues in due time.

Even if they don’t, they can take comfort in knowing that Gilead, as both a philosophy and a system, is so flawed that dreading it is an exercise in hyperbole. There are still plenty of lessons to be learned from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but in terms of setting up a competent theocratic regime, it’s a perfect check-list on what not to do.


Reason #1: Establishing Gilead Would Collapse The Economy

One of the first things the Sons of Jacob did when they established Gilead was fire every woman from their job and effectively eliminate their legal rights. On top of it being an exercise in brutal oppression, it removed half the labor force from the economy. In 2010, there were approximately 123 million women in the workforce. Firing every one of them wouldn’t just cause a huge recession. It would destroy the economy at every level.

Even the most ardent anti-feminist would be badly hurt by a world where half the GDP just disappeared. Suddenly, the industries that everybody relies on just cease functioning. Baking, health care, technology, and basic services essentially collapse as both the labor pool and the consumer base disappears.

That means from the very beginning, Gilead would have to navigate the worst economic collapse in history. More often than not, governments that cause collapses or fail to recover from them don’t last very long. Even if the Sons of Jacob found a way to blame it on minorities, feminists, or other religions, they would still be on the hook for fixing things and doing so with half the labor force will be difficult, to say the least.

Beyond the logistics, destroying an entire economy as part of a religious crusade is going to piss off some very powerful people who were thriving in the current system. America, alone, has over 500 billionaires whose massive wealth would be threatened by such a collapse. People with those kinds of resources aren’t going to let Gilead succeed, even if they manage to seize power.


Reason #2: Micromanaging Peoples’ Lives Is Impossible (In The Long Run)

I’ve noted before that fascist systems have many fundamental flaws. There’s a reason why some of the most brutal, authoritarian regimes in history still ended up collapsing. In the long run, they find out the hard way that it’s just impossible to effectively manage the lives their citizens.

The Republic of Gilead is a lot like Big Brother in that it takes micromanaging to a ridiculous extreme. It doesn’t just have its own secret police to enforce a rigid caste system. Much of its governing philosophy relies on ensuring people stick to their roles and never deviate. Women do what the state requires them to do without question. Men do the same, right down to how they structure their families.

That system only works if human beings are like machines who never get bored doing the same thing over and over again for their entire lives. Since human beings are not like that, there’s no way that kind of society can remain functional in the long run. The fact that the boredom of solitary confinement drives people crazy is proof enough of that.

It still gets worse than that. In every revolution, there’s often a period of heavy solidarity when the people rally behind the new regime as the beginning of a new Utopian vision. This happened in the Russian Revolution and during the Cultural Revolution in Communist China. Unfortunately for Gilead, it came to power by brute, terrorizing force.

That means this government coming to power isn’t the will of the people. It’s just plain bullying and people tend to resent that sort of thing. Even the Iran Revolution had the good sense to rally the people. The Republic of Gilead didn’t bother with that. It’s hard to imagine that collapsing the economy and subjugating half the population at gunpoint will make them many friends.


Reason #3: Theocracies Are The Least Stable Forms Of Autocracies

Remember when a purely theocratic state managed to prosper without being located atop an ocean of valuable oil? I don’t either and there’s a good reason for that. When it comes to repressive authoritarian states, theocracies are the worst possible choice. That’s because by entwining government with religion, it’s also entwining itself with the various flaws of religion.

Big Brother didn’t bother with religion in “1984.” It didn’t have to because religion, for all intents and purposes, was obsolete. The authority of the state and the authority of a deity was the same thing. The Republic of Gilead doesn’t have that luxury. Their politics and theology is based on an extremely conservative form of Christianity.

While that may seem fine to the Pat Robertson’s of the world, it adds a whole host of complications to the mix. The Sons of Jacob justify their repressive actions by appealing to Christianity and the bible. That’s okay if every single person in the entire republic agrees on one single interpretation of a religion and its holy text. Unfortunately, that has never occurred in the history of humanity.

There are dozens upon dozens of denominations in Christianity. There are also fringe cults, radical sects, and even schisms within those groups. At most, Gilead could have a unified theology at the beginning, but as new generations come along, that unity will collapse.

People will inevitably disagree. Every side will claim God is with them and everyone else are heretics. This sort of thing has been happening with religion for centuries. It won’t stop in Gilead. At some point, someone is going to think they heard God tell them something else and no one will be able to convince them otherwise. When that happens, conflict will ensue.

That sort of conflict can be managed in a more secular dictatorship. When government and religion are entwined, though, it’s much harder to work around. Even if Gilead could survive an economic collapse and the logistics of micromanaging peoples’ lives, it’s very unlikely it’ll survive the never-ending onslaught of religious debates.


Reason #4: Gilead Would Be An Easy Target For Invasion

Whether you’ve read the book or only watched the TV show, it’s hard to tell what sort of geopolitics the Republic of Gilead deals with. There are a few hints that there are other countries who did not descend into theocratic repression. There are even some cases of refugees in neighboring areas where women still have their rights.

The existence of those neighbors is yet another complication that ensures Gilead won’t last long, no matter how much its leaders pray. It already created a huge refugee crisis when it took over a sovereign government by force. At the same time, it handicapped itself by collapsing its economy and relegating half its population to serve as baby factories. It’s not just a source of chaos. It’s an easy target.

Neither the book nor the show reveals much about Gilead’s military capabilities. Even if we assume they get their hands on nuclear weapons, they’re still vulnerable because other countries have them too. More importantly, they know how to operate and maintain them. Religious zealots are good at a lot of things, but science isn’t one of them.

In the same way creationists aren’t likely to understand quantum mechanics, an entire government run by religious extremists aren’t likely to manage advanced weaponry. As time goes on, their emphasis of religion over reality will undermine their ability to develop such weapons. Their secular neighbors will have no such qualms.

Letting Gilead endure with its religious extremism and gender oppression means establishing a precedent that most other countries don’t want. Seeing one country fall to such a violent overthrow would be jarring enough. The first reaction to every nearby country would be to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen to them. One of those steps could be overthrowing Gilead before one woman has to wear those goofy outfits.


Regardless of how you feel about “The Handmaid’s Tale” or where you stand in terms of gender politics, the book offers a powerful message. Like “1984,” it shows how bad things can get when extremism takes hold. Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, we have a lot more incentive to get along rather than fight one another. At the end of the day, that will ensure that Gilead remains nothing more than a flawed, fictional country.

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Beth And Jerry: The Ultimate Anti-Romance Love Story

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When it comes to telling a good love story, there are many ways to go about it. I’ve certainly learned that from the novels and short stories I’ve written. The nature of romance is constantly evolving. What constitutes quality romance today might seem strange or downright flawed by the standards of the past.

There are many examples of quality, well-developed romances in popular culture today, as well as a few that are downright toxic. However, there’s one particular love story that seems to break all the rules, yet still functions in its own eccentric way. Fittingly enough, that utterly unromantic love story plays out in “Rick and Morty,” a show often defined by its various eccentricities.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve talked about “Rick and Morty.” Like so many others, I’ve been anxiously awaiting news about the fourth season. Ever since the show was renewed for 70 episodes, details have been scares. There have been some occasional teases, but nothing of substance as of yet.

While waiting for those details, I think it’s worth revisiting an issue that has been evolving and devolving since the very first episode. That issue is the less-than-ideal relationship between Beth and Jerry Smith, the parents of Morty and his sister, Summer. Like everything else in the world of “Rick and Morty,” the relationship of Morty’s parents is subject to many issues, flaws, and mishaps.

In essence, the relationship between Jerry and Beth is the antithesis of romantic love. This isn’t a case of two people falling in love and facing challenges when kids enter the picture. It’s not even a case of two people not being in love initially, but falling in love over time as they raise a family. In fact, the most defining aspect of Beth and Jerry’s love story is the complete absence of traditional romance.

That lack of romance doesn’t just stem from the show’s over-arching themes surrounding nihilism and meaning. By nearly every measure, Beth and Jerry aren’t the least bit compatible. Beth, like her eccentric father, is a very smart and capable, as shown in more than one episode. She’s a skilled horse surgeon and can hold her own when wielding advanced sci-fi weapons.

In contrast, Jerry is a case study in mediocrity. He’s not a complete idiot, but he certainly walks a fine line between laughably inept and downright pathetic. He’s unemployed for a good chunk of the first three seasons and is so oblivious that he doesn’t even realize when he’s in a poorly-rendered simulation. At times, he can be a lovable loser, but most of the times, he’s just a loser.

How he and Beth ended up together is neither romantic, nor glamorous. It’s established in Season 1 that Jerry got Beth pregnant on their prom night in high school. The reason they stayed together was for the sake of their child, which isn’t saying much because they almost got an abortion. The only reason they didn’t was because they blew a tire on the way to the clinic.

That may sound dark, but it’s perfectly in line with how “Rick and Morty” handles serious issues like teen pregnancy and abortion. It doesn’t attempt to romanticize the situation, nor does it send the message that having the child and getting married was in any way rewarded. Their always at odds and arguing about everything. There’s rarely a sense that their marriage is loving, stable, or anything romantic.

At one point in Season 3, Rick calls Jerry out on how he ended up with Beth. Despite what he claims, it wasn’t an act of romance that brought him and Beth together. It was little more than pity.

Jerry, being so inept at everything, has little more going for him than pity. It’s the only real skill he has, but it was enough to get him an ill-fated prom date with Beth. Rick sums it up nicely in one of his many memorable speeches.

You act like prey but you’re a predator. You use pity to lure in your victims. It’s how you survive. I survive because I know everything, that snake survives because children wander off, and you survive because people think, “Oh, this poor piece of shit, he never gets a break. I can’t stand the deafening silent wails of his wilting soul. I guess I’ll hire him or marry him.”

This moment is revealing in that it reinforces how little romance was involved in the development of Beth and Jerry’s relationship. Their entire lives together are built around Beth feeling sorry for Jerry. Then, once she got pregnant and failed to get an abortion, circumstances did the rest.

It’s not romantic. It’s not tragic, either. They just ended up in a lousy situation and made the most of it. That’s not a love story. That’s basic survival for anyone who isn’t a super-genius with access to a portal gun.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of sincerity. Jerry, being the least capable member of the family, tends to remember fondly the early days of their relationship. He’s the only one who sees the relationship in a romantic context. The only time anyone else sees it, Beth included, is when they’re facing a crisis, be it an identity crisis or the end of the world.

When it comes to the day-to-day logistics of the relationship, it’s never that functional. Jerry can’t hold down a job or handle himself whenever he gets caught up in Rick and Morty’s adventures. Beth drowns herself in bottles of wine and episodes of “The Bachelor.” Even when they try to do something romantic, like a Titanic-themed get-away, it often fails spectacularly.

This dysfunction eventually culminates in the first episode of Season 3, “The Rickshank Redemption.” Jerry, in a rare moment of assertiveness, tells Beth that she has to choose between him or her father. In his unintelligent mind, he believes the romance they have will win out. He ends up being wrong. Beth chooses her father and Jerry gets kicked out of the house.

In most shows, that would be the end of a relationship that’s so inherently flawed. However, “Rick and Morty” isn’t most shows and not just because it has characters like Mr. Poopybutthole. In this world of infinite realities and bird people, even love stories devoid of romance find a way to gain meaning in a show steeped in nihilistic undertones.

That meaning emerges at the end of Season 3 in “The Rickchurian Mortydate” in which Beth has a chance to make another choice. This time, she’s at odds with her father, who had revealed some harsh truths about who she was as a kid and what it means to be smart. Unlike before, she chooses Jerry over Rick and he gets to move back in.

This, through the twisted logic of “Rick and Morty,” affirms Beth and Jerry as a genuine love story, but one that is still devoid of romance. Beth didn’t choose Jerry out of love. She chose him because she that’s what she wanted. That’s all there is to it. In a show where Rick once described love as “a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed,” that might be the greatest act of love anyone can offer.

It also mirrors the inherent value of having a choice. Episodes like “Pickle Rick” and “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” all emphasize the importance of choice, especially for those of near infinite capabilities. Both Rick and Beth are endowed and burdened with intelligence, abilities, and options. Their choices are, ultimately, the only actions that truly matter in a meaningless universe.

In the case of Beth and Jerry, the choice doesn’t have to involve romance. In fact, romance would only complicate things. Just choosing to be together, despite all the flaws in their relationship, is the only thing they need to make their love work. They’re together because they want to be together. That’s all there is to it and that’s all they need.

In that sense, Beth and Jerry’s story still qualifies as a love story, despite the utter lack of romance. It’s hard to say where their relationship will go in the coming seasons of “Rick and Morty.” Maybe it will develop some amount of romance. Maybe it’ll only become more flawed and less romantic, as the series progresses.

Whatever ends up happening, it still doesn’t matter, as is often the case in “Rick and Morty.” As long as Beth chooses Jerry and Jerry chooses Beth, their story will still be a love story in its own unique way. Regardless of whether love is real or just a chemical reaction in their brains, it’s still their choice and that’s as meaningful as love can get in a meaningless universe.

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