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Why Wolverine Of The X-men Is The Perfect Counter To Toxic Masculinity

During a debate, the biggest challenge is making a point that strikes the right chords, evokes the right emotions, and has some semblance of logic. Anyone who has ever engaged in a meaningful debate, be it a formal contest or an argument on a message board, understands the extent of that challenge.

Sometimes, you have to get creative to make those points. Thankfully, getting creative for an aspiring erotica/romance writer and die-hard comic book fan is easier than it is for most people. Every now and then, your mind makes unexpected connections that perfectly encompasses the message you’ve been trying to convey.

This brings me back to “toxic masculinity,” a term I still believe should be retired from the English language, and every other language for that matter. I’ve dedicated multiple posts to deconstructing this concept. Now, I want to take it a step further.

I want to re-frame my stance on this concept by offering a different kind of argument. I’ve already argued that context and social situations are the primary driving force of the traits often ascribed to toxic masculinity.

I still think the point I made about context and social situation is difficult to grasp, even with the references to the rat park experiments. Most people outside of psychology buffs aren’t familiar with those experiments. Instead, I want to make my point by referencing a character that the vast majority of people have heard of to some extent.

Some know him as Logan, James Howlett, Weapon X, or that snarling guy with the claws who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Most simply know him as Wolverine.

Yes, I’m going to bring Wolverine, one of the most famous male superheroes of all time, into a discussion about toxic masculinity, but not in the way you think. Being an ardent X-men fan who has used superheroes to make points in the past, I feel uniquely qualified to link this iconic character to this concept that so many resent.

On the surface, that sounds like a losing battle. Bear with me, though. When you take a step back and look at Wolverine in the context of masculinity, as a whole, you’ll find that he’s the perfect embodiment of a man who guts the idea of toxic masculinity with his claws and spits on its corpse.

That may seem counter-initiative because anyone who is even somewhat familiar with Wolverine might see him as a man who embodies all the negative traits associated with masculinity. He’s brutish, crude, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, impulsive, violent, and irresponsible. He has all those traits on top of a tendency to go after married women.

However, before anyone starts attributing those traits to toxic masculinity, it’s important to understand the complexities of Wolverine’s story. There’s a reason why he’s often ranked as one of the most compelling characters in the history of comics. His life, persona, and story are full of all sorts of twists and turns. More than anything else, though, Wolverine’s story is one built on dehumanization.

Whether it’s the comics, movies, are cartoons, this is the primary driving force of Wolverine’s story. From his earliest origins to his most defining moments, Wolverine is a man who has been subjected to extreme forms of dehumanization. Some of them, especially those involved in the Weapon X program that made him, have no real-world parallel outside the mind of a North Korean mad scientist.

He’s had his memories erased, his mind warped, his body tortured, and even his soul stolen by a demon. Even by comic book standards, Wolverine has been roughed up more than most. Many people of exceedingly villainous tendencies have tried to strip him of his humanity and turn him into a living, breathing weapon. Needless to say, most of those people died horribly.

As a result, Wolverine is one of the most violent and unpredictable characters in all of comics. He’s also one of the most dangerous, having killed every major hero in the Marvel universe at one point and survived death itself on more than one occasion.

The most remarkable feat though, which also happens to strike directly at the very foundation of toxic masculinity, is his continued desire to cling to his humanity and be the iconic hero that so many X-men fans love.

It’s that drive, and the endearing persona that emerges from it, that makes Wolverine the perfect counter-punch to toxic masculinity. Despite all these dehumanizing forces, he still clings to his humanity. That effort, which has played out in many comics, movies, and cartoons over the years, reflects one important concept.

In essence, Wolverine reflects the idea that it’s really hard to make a man behave in such a toxic way. In order for him to be the kind of man that most people attribute to toxic masculinity, it’s necessary to torture him endlessly, strip him of all identity, and undercut his humanity in the worst way possible. If that kind of force is required, then how can anyone claim that masculinity is inherently toxic?

If those sorts of traits were inherent in men, then someone like Wolverine wouldn’t need that kind of conditioning. He wouldn’t need to be tortured or coerced into being the brutish, blood-thirsty monster that Weapon X wants him to be. If toxic masculinity were valid, someone would just have to give him some metal claws, send him out into the world, and let the magic of testosterone do the rest.

That’s not how men work, though, even in the fictional world. In X-men comics, as well as real life, ideas of masculinity guide men in different ways. For Wolverine, those ways led him to becoming an X-men, an Avenger, and an iconic hero who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. It shows in more than just his heroism.

Throughout his history in the X-men comics, Wolverine has shown that when he’s not being coerced or tortured, he makes an effort to live an honorable life. He seeks love, having even married a couple of a times. He seeks friendships and relationships, some of which have helped make characters like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee famous in their own right. He basically tries to be his own man.

Even though he’s still an asshole at times, he’s an asshole in a way that’s gender neutral. The things Wolverine does that make him an ass are the same things that apply to women. Whether it’s going after someone else’s spouse, undercutting someone’s authority, or randomly running off to do his own thing, there’s nothing Wolverine does that a woman couldn’t also do.

That leads directly to what might be an even more compelling argument for Wolverine being the antithesis of toxic masculinity. That’s because there is a female character who shares many of Wolverine’s experiences and exemplifies the same traits. Those who saw the “Logan” movie last year already know where I’m going with this.

It’s his clone/daughter, Laura “X-23” Kinney. In a sense, she doubles down on the idea that these “toxic” traits are not inherently masculine because she endured dehumanization to a similar extent. In fact, her dehumanization was even worse because she wasn’t given a name, only a number.

Like Wolverine, being subjected to such dehumanization rendered Laura violent, impulsive, and callous. If she were male, then it would be easy for advocates of toxic masculinity to slap her with that label, just like Wolverine. However, her being female undercuts that argument from its very foundation.

Together, the character and story surrounding Wolverine and X-23 undercuts toxic masculinity by establishing that the toxic effects of dehumanization don’t apply to just one gender. Strip away someone’s identity, social support, and humanity and they’ll demonstrate more than a few toxic traits.

What this means in terms of the bigger picture is that those traits attributed to toxic masculinity have a larger context that goes beyond gender. These traits that are tied to certain male behaviors are correlated to one thing, but not necessarily tied to the actual cause. Being a man doesn’t make Wolverine who he is. Being a man who was subject to dehumanizing treatment did that.

Now, apply that to a world where the very idea of masculinity is being subject to all sorts of scrutiny. Joss Whedon went so far as to call certain masculine tendencies a disease when making excuses for his infidelity. By linking everything bad in the world to masculinity, it dehumanizes men by making them seem inherently flawed.

That’s the most insidious implication of toxic masculinity. It’s very much akin to the forces behind Weapon X in that it attempts to deconstruct a core part of someone’s identity, reducing them to a hunk of flesh to be molded for someone else.

Most men don’t want that. Most people, in general, don’t want that. It’s yet another reason why the idea of toxic masculinity needs to be gutted with adamantium claws, locked in an adamantium case, and thrown into the deepest, darkest pits of the real and fictional world.


Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Sexy Sunday Thoughts: The Hugh Jackman Appreciation Edition

This weekend has been a big deal for X-men fans, comic book fans, and people who just think Hugh Jackman is God’s gift to this world. The “Logan” movie is out. If you haven’t seen it yet, what the hell is your excuse? Short of a death in the family, a life-threatening illness, or a date with Taylor Swift, there is none.

It’s exciting, but bittersweet for X-men fans. With this monumental movie, Hugh Jackman is hanging up his claws. He will no longer play Wolverine. I’ve talked about why this movie matters and why it’s importance goes beyond catering to comic book fans like myself. There will probably be many more discussions on this movie and its associated topics down the line. For now, though, Hugh Jackman has done his part.

What can you say about the man that hasn’t already been said or screamed by women with vivid imaginations during sex? He’s one of the most likable guys in Hollywood who doesn’t sell cocaine. He’s a truly special soul.

As a noted X-men fan, I can say for certain that his contributions to X-men and comic book movies will be celebrated for generations to come. Whatever he does next in his storied career, I wish him nothing but the best. May he enjoy critical praise and nude scenes with every actress on “Game of Thrones” for the rest his career.

That’s why I’d like to dedicate this week’s edition of “Sexy Sunday Thoughts” to the man who dedicated 17 years of his life to playing everyone’s favorite razor-clawed, whiskey chugging, mutton-chops wielding Canadian. I doubt he’ll ever read this, but Mr. Jackman, consider this my way of saying thanks.

“Teenagers have any number of reasons for being miserable, but you rarely see miserable teenagers with healthy sex lives. Coincidence?”

I like to think of myself as an expert on miserable teenagers, seeing as how I had a talent for misery throughout high school. I know all about the things that make a teenager sad, depressed, and just plain pissed off at the world.

For the teenagers that had healthy sex lives, and I know this because teenagers suck at shutting up, they weren’t really that miserable. It turns out that, despite all the fears about teen sex, it is possible for some teenagers to be responsible about it. The result is less misery. Go figure.

“Teach a man to love a woman and he’ll dedicate himself to finding the one for him. Teach a man to go down on a woman and that woman he’s seeking will find him.”

I consider this critical romantic advice for men who seek the love of women. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I explore all sorts of ideas about love, sex, and intimacy. In that exploration, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just be passionate about finding a significant other. You also have to give those whose love you seek incentive.

When it comes to incentives, it’s hard to top good oral sex. It doesn’t matter how bad a day a man or woman is having. If their day ends with good oral sex, it’s a good day. That, my fellow men, will streamline any romantic quest.

“Does a prostitute at a singles bar defeat the purpose?”

People go to singles bars to seek out new romantic partners, hook up, and get laid if their lucky. It’s a complex game, one that requires an elaborate mating dances of sorts. Put it in a nature show and it’s basically a documentary with more rap music in the background.

A prostitute, male or female, circumvents that dance. There’s no ambiguity with their goals. There’s no elaborate dance beyond haggling how much extra it costs for oral. Not saying prostitutes have no place in a singles bar. They definitely do. However, they do sort of undermine the principle.

“If pole dancing qualifies as exercise, then lap dances should count as romance.”

Pole dancing is a new fitness trend. That’s not a joke. Seriously, this is actually a thing. I’m not too big on fitness fads these days, but this just feels like an excuse for people to exercise their elaborate stripper fantasies that they don’t want to share with their significant others.

If that’s really the case, then they why do things halfway? Why not go the extra distance and throw lap dances into the mix? If you’re going to call stuff like that fitness, then let’s at least be as flexible when it comes to romance.

“A trained gynecologist has no excuse for being bad at cunnilingus.”

This is just basic logic. Doctors go to school for a long time and have to learn a lot of things about the human body that most people never get to know, nor do they want to know. A gynecologist is just one of many specialties and I imagine it has a certain appeal that other parts of the body just can’t match.

So if someone is a trained and competent gynecologist, they should know the mechanics of giving women good oral sex. If they don’t, then what’s that say about their competence as a doctor? You can get away with being incompetent at some things. Gynecology is not one of them.

“Crossfit is to exercise what fisting is to sex.”

This is more an indictment about crossfit than it is about fisting. Now we all have certain sex acts that we consider uncomfortable or extreme. Some are just built for those acts and for those people, I say more power to them.

Crossfit, however, is one of those things where people seem to go out of their way to punish their bodies. It’s intense, it’s strenuous, and it doesn’t work for everybody. However, the people involved, much like those who love fisting too much, don’t shut the fuck up about it. Now I’m all for better sex and exercise. I don’t need people getting evangelical about it.

“No epic love story ever began with a drunken bar bet that involved public nudity.”

I’m sure there are any number of one-night stands and hookups that began with bar bets and public nudity. I may even write about some of those stories in my novels at some point. For a truly epic love story, though, I’m just as certain that it’s not a viable starting point.

Now I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for bar bets and public nudity, especially during Mardi Gras. However, if you’re trying to craft an epic love story, you’re probably going to need a better starting point.

“A teenage boy can’t truly say he’s smart until he’s learned how to get semen stains out of his bed sheets.”

This is something men everywhere have to deal with at some point, but rarely talk about. As teenagers, our dicks get us into all sorts of trouble. Even when we’re sleeping, they like to screw with us. So when our dreams get a little too vivid, the results tend to lead to awkward conversations with parents.

For those teenage boys who consider themselves smart and resourceful, they find a way to hide the evidence and avoid those conversations. I don’t care how many AP classes you take. If you’re not smart enough to hide the evidence of your Jennifer Lawrence fantasies from your mother, then you can’t call yourself smart.

That’s it for now. On behalf of Wolverine fans and people who just fine Hugh Jackman sexy as hell, I thank you. Mr. Jackman, this one’s for you. You spent 17 years playing Wolverine, the most badass comic book character of all time. Thank you for making the world a little sexier.

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Filed under Sexy Sunday Thoughts

The Logan Movie And Why It Matters

Today is a big day for X-men fans. As such, that means it’s a big day for me. I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear on this blog that I’m a big comic book fan and a big X-men fan. Hell, I dedicated an entire post to explaining why Storm is a better role model for girls than Wonder Woman. If that’s not enough to get my point across, then you’re just being difficult.

Today, the X-men fan in me is giddier than a school girl in a house full of puppies because this is the day the “Logan” movie comes out. This is not just another superhero movie for me, nor is it just another attempt by Fox to keep the X-men movie rights from returning to Marvel, although that certainly is part of it. This movie represents the end of an era for X-men and the potential beginning of another.

This movie was destined to be bittersweet because Hugh Jackman made clear that this movie would be his last time playing Wolverine. For X-men fans of the past 17 years, this is a big fucking deal. Hugh Jackman is to Wolverine what dick jokes are to Deadpool. They’re so intrinsically tied to one another. They make each other inherently better.

The fact that anyone can play the same character for 17 years in a major action movie that requires a ridiculous workout regiment says just as much about Hugh Jackman as it does about Wolverine. In that same time, we’ve had three actors play Spider-Man, two actors play Batman, and two actors play Superman. There has always been one Wolverine. Jackman sets that high bar. The cast of Justice League should take notice.

As an X-men fan, I will be sad to see Jackman hang up his claws after this. Wolverine will never be the same without him, but he’s better as a character because of him. For that, I will be eternally thankful to Mr. Jackman for his passion and dedication.

However, there’s another reason to be excited about this movie and it has little to do with Hugh Jackman or his sex appeal. I know. That’s a bold claim. I know many of the ladies out there would passionately disagree, but that reason is every bit as important as Jackman’s sexiness.

For this particular movie, as well as the future of the X-men in general, Wolverine isn’t the alpha and omega of all things X-men. It’s not just because the cast for X-men is so large and diverse. In this movie, Logan literally can’t be that guy anymore. His body, his spirit, and his resolve are breaking down. Even with metal bones and a healing factor, he just can’t do what he does anymore, nor does he even want to.

That’s where Laura “X-23” Kinny comes in. Who is X-23 and why should you care? Well, make no mistake. X-23 is a major reason to see this movie. She’s also a major reason to read the X-men comics because she is very much a part of the legacy that Wolverine has created.

X-23, who is played by Dafne Keen this movie, is one of the most important characters to enter the X-men comics in the past 20 years. She debuted in 2004 in season 3 of the X-men cartoon, X-men Evolution. For a kids show that aired on Saturday mornings, her story is pretty damn harsh.

On paper, she’s a clone of Wolverine. That’s not a new concept. Comic books are full of clone characters and stories about clones. Some of them are decent. Some are infamously terrible. However, X-23 took it many steps further.

Like Wolverine, she’s prone to outbursts of violent rage. She prefers solving her problems by stabbing them and she’ll spit, swear, and snarl in ways that would make any man’s balls feel a little bit smaller. She’s not a tomboy. She’s the kind of girl who beats the shit out of tomboys and looks badass doing it.

However, her story goes even deeper than that. X-23 never carried herself as a clone. She always carried herself as a part of Wolverine’s family. At first, she hated it. In fact, in her debut episode of X-men Evolution, she tried to kill him. Her reasons are best summed up by one succinct quote.

This is your fault, everything I am is because of you!

What exactly is she and why does she blame Wolverine? Well, one of the most defining traits, aside from his convoluted romantic history, about Wolverine is his mysterious past. It’s mysterious because a good chunk of it has been wiped from his memory. This mystery is a big part of what drove the first two Wolverine movies.

With X-23, however, she has no such luxury. She remembers everything and not just because she’s just a teenager. She remembers all the ways her creators tortured her. At least Logan got to live a life before he became a living weapon. X-23 was created from birth to be that same weapon. Every waking hour of her childhood was dedicated to turning her into a heartless killing machine.

Now I know I joke about how traumatic high school is for some teenagers, but what X-23 went through defies even the worst high school experiences, including gym class. She has been so systematically conditioned, trained, and abused to become more a thing than a person that it pisses her off and rightfully so.

In both X-men Evolution, and her comic book origin story “X-23: Innocence Lost,” she turns on her creators. By that, I mean she fucking maims every one of them. However, she still sees Logan as the reason she exists. It’s his DNA that made her. At first, she sees him as a source of pain. Eventually, though, she comes to see him as her salvation.

This is what is so meaningful and relevant about X-23 and her story. She was literally created to be more weapon than human. She was not supposed to have family, emotions, or attachments of any kind. Despite this, and all the torture that came with it, she still sought those connections out.

She even achieved it, thanks to her own efforts, as well as Logan. She came to see him as a father rather than an enemy. Logan, despite his predilection for beer and married women, embraced the opportunity to be a father to this girl. He brought out the best in X-23 and she brought out the best in him.

As a character, X-23 is both compelling and relevant. With Hugh Jackman leaving the X-men movies, who else can carry on his legacy? Deadpool can do a lot, even with his pants on, but even the sex appeal of Ryan Reynolds has its limits.

The X-men comics have already taken that step. After Wolverine died in a final battle against his creators, X-23 decided to honor her father’s legacy by taking on his mantle. On top of that, the yellow spandex looks better on her.

There’s one more reason why X-23 is so important to the future of the X-men, superhero movies, and female characters as a whole. At the moment, every comic company and movie producer not on a cocaine binge is trying to create better female characters. In many respects, they have plenty to work with.

DC and the Justice League have Wonder Woman, who is a already a female icon. Marvel has Captain Marvel, who they are working tirelessly to make into a female icon. The X-men also have Storm, a female character whose grace and badassery transcend race, gender, or whatever else hippies bitch about. However, X-23 represents something that’s different and vital.

It’s not just that these iconic female characters are all adults who have established themselves in competent roles. These characters try to embody the best of what women can be. X-23 follows a different struggle. She fights to overcome the dehumanization she endured as a child and become her own person. It’s a constant struggle, one that leads to some pretty brutal moments, but one that’s wholly relevant in 2017.

While “Logan” may be Hugh Jackman’s swan song to an iconic character, it’s also a celebration of the emergence of X-23. At a time when women have plenty of reasons to dread, X-23 represents the will and strength to confront those challenges, stab them, look damn good while doing it.

All his life, and through Hugh Jackman’s charisma, Wolverine claimed to be the best he was at what he did. Now, thanks to X-23, he can rest easy knowing that his legacy is secure.


Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Jack Fisher's Insights