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Gender Politics, Military Conscription, And Why It Matters

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When it comes to gender politics, there are certain issues that come to mind and others that slip under the radar. These days, the most newsworthy issues involve things like diversity in popular media, discrimination in certain social spheres, attitudes within certain sub-cultures, and patterns of harassment.

I’ve explored some of these issues in the past, but only when I feel like there’s relevant discussion worth having. The problem with the issues that slip under the radar is that they rarely make headlines, which helps them persist. Even when a headline finally does come along, it’s difficult to discuss because most people aren’t aware of it and haven’t contemplated the implications.

A good example is military conscription. If you live in America, Canada, or Western Europe and are under the age of 40, chances are you haven’t given it a moment’s thought. Conscription, or the draft as it’s commonly known, is one of those institutions that just isn’t as relevant as it used to be. Considering how much war, in general, has declined in the past 50 years, that’s understandable.

However, it’s still relevant in the sense that it reflects old attitudes about society, war, and gender roles. These attitudes are rarely scrutinized, even among feminists, conservatives, liberals, and egalitarians. Now, thanks to recent developments in the courts, this might be a good time to discuss this often-overlooked issue.

If you’re an adult, able-bodied man, then this issue affects you. It has already affected me and almost every other man older than 18 years of age because that’s the age when we had to sign up for the Selective Service System. In doing so, we gave the government the information and discretion to draft us into military service, should the need arrive.

Make no mistake. This is not akin to getting a driver’s license or a social security card. By signing up for the Selective Service System, a sizable chunk of the male population is agreeing to go to war whenever their government decides to conscript them. It’s not a formality, nor is it done out of patriotism either.

Every man has had to learn what this emblem means.

It’s not just because doing so is necessary to access federal programs like student loans, job training, and Pell Grants. Failure to sign up for Selective Service is a felony, punishable by hefty fines and prison time. Logistically speaking, this is an issue in which consent truly doesn’t matter. Men have to do this. They are as subject to conscription as they are to paying taxes.

It’s one of the few issues in which the gender divide is clear cut. Men must permit the government to conscript them into military service. Women do not. While women are still free to join the military and enjoy its many benefits, they ultimately have a choice that men don’t. In the event of a war that requires conscription, they won’t be forced to join the fight.

Whether you’re a pacifist, egalitarian, or a radical feminist, this issue should matter because it has significant implications. It’s frequently cited as a case of male disposability and for good reason. The fact that only men must sign up for conscription implies that society is comfortable sending them to the front lines of a war. It affirms that we’re okay with men being brutalized, but not women, a double standard I’ve explored before.

While there are many historical reasons for this, ranging from ancient warrior cultures to evolutionary factors to the pragmatism of protecting the gender that bears the babies, those reasons don’t carry as much weight anymore. Most countries, including the United States, rely on a voluntary service system and several decades of civil rights movements have made gender discrimination illegal.

However, the Selective Service System managed to escape all these changes until very recently. In February 2019, a federal court issued a groundbreaking ruling that concluded the Military Selective Service Act was unconstitutional. This quote from the ruling nicely sums up the reasoning behind that ruling.

In short, while historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now “similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft.”

While it’s likely that this ruling will be contested, it does provide an opportunity for a more nuanced discussion. Most debates regarding gender tend to focus on areas where women and transgender individuals face discrimination and marginalization. These debates have certainly made their share of headlines, but military conscription is unique in its impact on men.

That might be part of the reason why conscription rarely arises in a gender debate, but with this ruling, the time is right to address it. There’s no denying the discrimination here. Men are being forced to do something at the behest of their government and women are not. This issue reflects a major disparity, but it’s also an opportunity.

Even though military conscription hasn’t been practiced in the United States for several decades, it has already played a significant role in shaping society. A big reason why the civil rights movement made so much progress in the 1950s and 1960s is because conscription required people of various races and backgrounds to work together. In many respects, the structure of the military was a huge equalizer.

This is nicely depicted in the opening scenes of “Full Metal Jacket.” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman made it abundantly clear to every recruit that there’s no discrimination in his unit. Your race, ethnicity, and background didn’t matter in the slightest. In a war, it can’t matter. It’s a powerful message that many soldiers brought back with them.

The face of true unity.

That sort of message has never been applied to gender in the United States. It’s not unprecedented, though. There are a number of countries that have mandatory military service for both men and women. Israel, one of America’s closest allies, is one of them. While they tend to serve different roles, the fact that they’re subject to the same obligations as men sends a powerful message.

It doesn’t just show in the status that women have in Israel have, especially when compared to other neighboring nations. It establishes equal expectations for women and men, alike. In a system where everyone is held to a similar standard when defending their country, it’s harder to justify discrimination.

That has significant implications for the United States in wake of the ruling. Either the Selective Service System must be thrown out entirely or women must be subject to the same requirements. As recently as 2016, Congress debated the idea of including women in the system, but it did not pass. The fact that it sparked few protests is revealing, in and of itself.

By not acting through legislation, the courts are forcing the issue. The Justice Department is already opposing the ruling by claiming that requiring women to register for the draft is “particularly problematic.” That’s somewhat ironic, given that similar rhetoric is used when feminists criticize video game characters for being too sexy.

Despite that rhetoric, it’s just as telling that there are few protests surrounding this statement. The same protesters who marched in Washington DC back in 2017 have been relatively silent in how the government views gender disparity with respect to military conscription. This isn’t a right. It’s a responsibility and one that can unify a society full of diverse people.

To some extent, it’s understandable why those same protesters don’t argue for the same standards with respect to military conscription. Unlike Israel, the United States and most western countries don’t have mandatory military service and the draft hasn’t been utilized in 40 years. For most people, it doesn’t directly affect them.

However, that might also make it the perfect issue for unifying people from both ends of gender issues. If feminists and men’s rights activists are serious about equality in terms of the law and societal standards, then military conscription is a clear-cut issue that they can both rally behind. Either you’re for equality or you’re not. At the very least, it would be helpful to know who’s not.

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Controlling Women’s Bodies Versus Policing Men’s Thoughts

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Discussing gender issues, whether it’s from a feminist perspective or a male perspective, is fraught with problems. I’m not just referring to the hashtags, virtue signaling, systemic deficiencies, or historic injustices, either. Talk to anyone on any part of the political spectrum for more than five minutes and you’ll realize something very quickly.

Addressing gender issues isn’t just difficult. It’s frustrating.

By that, I don’t mean that it’s impossible to have a productive conversation. There are just certain aspects of that conversation that are intractable. We’ll never be able to agree because we’ll never be on the same page.

Women will point out the historic abuses and injustices perpetrated by men.

Men will point out the inherent advantages and privileges that women are afforded.

Women will bemoan instances of harassment, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal oppression.

Men will cite instances of egregious double standards, male disposability, and cultural marginalization.

Those in the transgender community will point out how both sides are guilty of denigrating their community.

From the most radical of feminists to the most egregious misogynist, there seems to be no common ground. It fuels a great deal of the perpetual outrage culture surrounding gender. Whatever your ideology, it feels like there’s no underlying thread through which we can get to the heart of the conflict.

While I don’t claim to be an expert in feminism, men’s issues, or gender, I’ve written enough about these topics to gain some insight. In doing so, I wish to do something other than complain about the state of gender politics. Instead, I’d like to offer an idea that I believe puts many gender-driven conflicts into a more cohesive context.

The primary catalyst for gender conflicts boils down to controlling women’s bodies versus policing men’s thoughts.

I know it’s a generalization, one that seems too simple to cover so many complicated issues. However, the connections are there. If you take a step back, it’s possible to see how many current and past issues involving gender came down to this simple dynamic.

To understand its implications, take a moment to think about the different ways we judge men and women. Consider how we do it now, how we’ve done it in the past, and the ways we justify it. When you look at the big picture, there are some clear patterns.

Take, for example, the extent to which modesty and chastity is emphasized for women. In both modern Islamic cultures and ancient agrarian cultures, a virtuous woman was one who didn’t show off her body, didn’t have promiscuous sex, and didn’t thrust herself into major issues. At the same time, modesty in men is never mentioned.

Why is this? I know some feminists will cite the nefarious patriarchy as the source of all female marginalization. That makes for a great melodrama, but it does not reflect reality. I know I’ll upset a few feminists here when I say this, but I think it needs to be said.

The obsession over the female body has nothing to do with patriarchy and everything to do with the fact that women bear children. That’s the one intractable difference between men and women that no ideology can deny. One gender has to carry the future of the species inside their bodies for nine months and the other doesn’t.

Any woman who has endured a pregnancy can attest that this process is strenuous, to say the least. Unfortunately, it’s necessary for the continuation of our species and, by default, the growth of society. From a purely pragmatic perspective, it makes sense to micromanage female bodies.

We need female bodies to be healthy and safe in order to bear children. The fact that, for much of recorded history, men needed to be certain those children were theirs for the inheritance of property only increased that need. Women who were promiscuous, injured, or in any way damaged didn’t just result in their own suffering. It could cause the entire tribe to suffer.

It certainly doesn’t help that we had a limited understanding of human biology and disease until recently. It also doesn’t help that these values of protecting female bodies became enshrined in religion and culture, some of which are still practiced today. This emphasis on controlling the female body is the foundation on which many taboos, traditions, and tropes are built.

On that same foundation is the other side of that dynamic that involves policing the thoughts of men. By that, I don’t just mean men acting immature at the sight of a naked woman or cringing at discussions concerning female biology. I’m talking about a mentality that builds assumptions and expectations about an entire gender based on unknowable thoughts.

Think back to what Judeo-Christian morals say about men who look at a women with lust. It’s such an important issue that Jesus himself says outright that just thinking sexy thoughts about a woman is a major transgression. He didn’t say anything about homosexuality, but he made it clear that contemplating lust is as bad as acting on it.

Many religious traditions and cultures place a similar emphasis on the subject. It’s why traditions in Islam and ancient China advocate separating men from women. If they’re in close proximity, they may look at one another. If they look at one another, then they may think lustful thoughts.

This isn’t just cultures being sexually uptight or overly patriarchal. This emphasis on scorning men’s thoughts makes logistical sense when you look at the intent. From perspective of a functional society, it has to emphasize thought over actions because just judging a man for his actions is insufficient when you extrapolate the consequences.

Say a man sexually assaults a woman. The community rightfully convicts him and punishes him as harshly as possible. No matter how harsh or cruel, though, it doesn’t undo the harm he inflicted on the woman. She is still traumatized. She might even be permanently injured. As I noted before, when a female body suffers, it puts the future of the community in danger.

As a result, we have no choice but to attack the thoughts of the man that preceded his assault. The only way to prevent damage to the female body is to prevent those violent thoughts from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, we can’t read thoughts. We don’t know what a man is or isn’t thinking when he commits an egregious crime. As a result, we’re left with expectations and assumptions.

That’s where we get flawed concepts like toxic masculinity, the male gaze, and mansplaining. That’s also why there’s a greater emphasis on assuming the guilt of men and believing the claims of women. Attacking their thoughts is the only sure-fire way to prevent them from turning into actions that would harm women and their bodies.

Please note that I emphasized the harm to the female bodies with respect to men’s actions. That’s not an accident. The assumptions are the same today as they were in ancient times when protecting the reproductive function of women wasn’t just a cultural tradition. It was a matter of survival. Any effort that could reduce the chances of a female body being harmed had merit. From there, natural selection does the rest.

With this dynamic in mind, look at some of the relevant cultural issues going on today. Even if the connections aren’t direct, the influencing factors are there. Nearly every one of them come back to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the abortion debate is controlling women’s bodies.

At the heart of the debate over depictions of women in media is policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the anti-harassment movement, the anti-pornography movement, and the opposition to prostitution is the control of female bodies and the policing of men’s thoughts.

It’s rarely stated outright. However, that is what many issues comes back to. Often times, the people involved won’t use words like “control” or “policing.” They’ll claim they’re protecting women’s bodies and enlightening men’s thoughts. That may be the intention, but there are only so many ways anyone can go about pursuing such recourse.

To protect anything, you have to be able to control it to some degree. We can’t protect people, pets, or possessions without some kind of containment. The same goes for reforming someone’s attitudes. It’s necessary to police undesired thoughts to promote the thoughts you want.

In both cases, the outcome is the same. It’s both impossible and untenable to completely control women’s bodies. That requires a level of subjugation that even the most brazen misogynist cannot stomach or maintain. It’s just as impractical to police men’s thoughts. We can never know for sure what someone else is thinking. We’re left to assume and that’s usually the first step towards expecting the worst.

Despite the efforts of government, culture, tradition, and organized religion, nobody has come close to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts to any sustainable extent. Men will still think sexy thoughts, a small part of which will precede a serious crime. Women will still put themselves at risk to be free, have fun, and enjoy their bodies on their own terms.

Even if 99 percent of what men think results in no crimes and 99 percent of what women did with their bodies resulted in no negative effects, we’ll still obsess over that one percent of the time when something goes horribly wrong. That obsession will continue to fuel the most radical parts of feminism and the most vocal parts of men’s rights activists.

For now, there’s no way to bridge the gap. That may change as a result of major social and technological trends, but this is the current situation. Again, I don’t claim this idea of controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts is the definitive catalyst for all gender-driven conflicts. This is just an idea I wanted to share in hopes of providing perspective.

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The Humor In Mutilating Men Versus The Atrocity Of Harming Women

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It’s one of the most traumatic things a man can experience, the permanent damage or total removal of his penis. Whether by accident or intentional violence, he’s badly injured on a physical physical and psychological level. His ability to identify as a man, experience intimacy with others, or just feel basic pleasure is irreparably damaged.

Just mentioning the possibility of losing his penis will make most men cringe. Joke all you want about how much men glorify their genitals, but it really is an important part of their bodies and their identities. Losing it is like losing a limb, which does plenty to cause serious mental trauma. Add losing a key aspect of their masculinity to the mix and that trauma becomes amplified.

Despite that trauma, men losing their genitals is fodder for comedy. Recently, Netflix released a movie called “The Package,” the plot of which is built entirely around a man who loses his penis in an accident. That movie, if you look it up on IMDB, is listed as a comedy. Imagine, for a moment, a movie that tried to make a comedy out of female genital mutilation. How much outrage would that generate?

There’s nothing funny about women’s bodies getting mutilated or even harmed in any serious way. For men, though, it’s actually a pretty common trope. You don’t have to look too deep into the history of media to find jokes about men losing their genitals.

It’s a famous line in “The Big Leboswki.”

It’s a recurring theme in “Fight Club.”

It’s a sub-plot in an episode of “Rick and Morty.”

It’s a primary plot in an episode of “Family Guy.”

Even in media that isn’t overtly comedic, it still becomes a joke. Just look up the various internet memes about Theon Greyjoy from “Game of Thrones” for proof of that. In each case, the mutilation of men and the loss of their masculinity is portrayed as something that’s inherently funny. The fact that Netflix made a movie about that premise shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even in the cases of real stories about real men losing their genitals, it’s prone to plenty of humor. The most famous case is probably that of John Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife cut off his penis after he raped her. While Bobbitt was, by all accounts, a horribly abusive man who deserved plenty of condemnation for what he did, his name still inspires jokes.

When people say the name Bobbitt, they don’t think of all the abuse he imparted on his wife. They think of how funny it is that his wife cut his dick off. While he was able to get it re-attached, many other men aren’t so lucky. Whether it’s public perception or daytime talk shows, a man losing his penis is still seen as funny.

Conversely, any media that shows a woman being harmed in any way, even if it’s just a slap in the face, is seen as an irredeemable atrocity. Watch shows like “Married With Children” or “The Simpsons” and you’ll see plenty of scenes where Al Bundy and Homer Simpson badly injure themselves through their antics. However, there are exceedingly few scenes that ever lead to the women being harmed.

Anything that leaves any lasting scar on a woman is inherently abhorrent. There are even major international organizations that work to combat practices like female genital mutilation. When women lose their reproductive organs from disease or injury, it’s seen as a tragedy. Anyone who laughs at their pain is rightly scorned.

Why is this, though? Why is it that an entire comedy can be built around a man losing his penis while any plot that involves a woman getting hurt in any way is dead serious? That’s not an easy question to answer. It can’t be entirely attributed to the gender-driven  double standards that I’ve singled out before.

I don’t claim to know the full answer, but I think it’s worth discussing, if only for the sake of maintaining a balanced perspective. I don’t doubt that many have their theories. Some may attribute the humor we find in men getting mutilated to trends in modern feminism. I would strongly disagree with that.

I believe that this idea of laughing at male mutilation while gasping at female victimization preceded modern feminism by a great deal. I would go so far as to say it goes back much further than that. I believe this unique quirk in gender dynamics has roots in ancient pre-modern societies that transcend geography, culture, and ethnicity.

At the core of this phenomenon is one unpleasant, but inescapable truth. I’m probably going to upset some of my fellow men by saying this, but I think it needs to be said.

We NEED to be comfortable with men getting mutilated on some levels.

Take a moment to stop fuming. Then, take a moment to consider why we would need to be okay with this in both current and ancient societies. From a purely logistic standpoint, it makes sense.

For most of human history, men were expected to carry out the dangerous, back-breaking, body-maiming work that built our civilization. Regardless of location, culture, or traditions, putting men in these situations was necessary. Someone needed to fight the wars, plow the fields, hunt dangerous animals, and work in factories.

Until very recently, men had to fill that role because women were at a severe disadvantage due to the dangers and risks of child-rearing. In the pre-modern world, the most vulnerable individuals in a society were pregnant women, newborn infants, and women in labor. In 18th-century England alone, there were 25 deaths per 1,000 births.

With odds like that, there was a legitimate reason to give women extra protection and care that was not afforded to men. Men didn’t have the babies and no society could survive in the long run if it didn’t have a growing population. That’s why, for better or for worse, there are so many cultural and religious traditions that encourage women to remain in domestic roles.

Those same traditions, however, establish a dynamic requiring that we accept a certain level of male victimization. It’s one thing for a man to die in battle or having his genitals maimed in an accident. It’s quite another for a woman, who are tasked with birthing and caring for a new generation, to endure similar harm. Another man can still impregnate a healthy woman. No amount of men can impregnate an injured woman.

I know that dynamic is offensive to both feminists and men’s rights activists because it reduces their value to their reproductive capacity. I get why that’s offensive. Even I find it offensive, as a man. However, therein lies the most critical detail with respect to male mutilation versus male victimization.

These disparate standards, which predate the modern era by centuries, are still very much ingrained in our society. We still see women, especially those of breeding age, as more valuable than men. We romanticize young men who heroically sacrifice themselves in war, but recoil at the idea of young women suffering a similar fate.

Add emerging demographic issues with respect to declining fertility rates and the same incentives for accepting male mutilation are there. We still need people to have children for society to grow and function, but more women are having fewer children and more men are eschewing the pursuit of families entirely.

In terms of logistics, that increases the value of every woman who wishes to have a children and decreases the value of men who refuse to go along with that plan. In that system, a man losing his genitals or suffering a severe injury has to be funny in order for the situation to be tenable. By the same token, any harm coming to a woman has to remain extremely taboo.

Logistics aside, it’s still an unfair predicament that undermines the suffering and trauma that men endure. The fact that we have to be okay with their suffering while overvaluing the suffering of women is bound to fuel more egregious double standards. Movies like “The Package” certainty don’t help, but so long as this age-old gender disparity persists, men losing their penises will remain fodder for comedy rather than tragedy.

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