Tag Archives: masculinity

What Radical Feminists and Incel Men Have In Common

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Since I’ve been browsing the internet, I’ve tried to keep up with its assorted jargon, slang, and euphemisms. Given the rapid pace of technology and the uneven pace at which society adapts, it can be pretty daunting. There are times I feel like I have fallen behind. I still remember feeling foolish when I asked someone what a hashtag was.

While I make an effort to keep up, there are certain parts of net-based sub-culture that I prefer to avoid. I’m not just talking about Twilight message boards. I’m talking about the kind of domains on the internet where people who have genuine, in-need-of-help problems congregate to whine, complain, and otherwise compound their problems.

One such sub-culture that I’ve avoided talking about on this site or in general is that of the so-called incel community. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, and I envy those who had avoided it thus far, incel stands for “involuntary celibate.” In essence, they identify themselves as men who would like to have sex, but cannot because women and society at large has prevented this. It’s as crass as it sounds, but it gets much worse.

I would’ve been content to never even mention the incel community on this site. Then, a self-identified incel carried out a deadly attack in Toronto that killed 10 people and suddenly incels weren’t just in the news. They were a genuine danger. Since I try to discuss relevant topics on this site, be they sex robots or superhero movies, I’m going to grit my teeth and talk about this frustrating phenomenon.

It’s not just frustrating because it gives men, masculinity, and people with poor social skills a bad name. It’s frustrating because it’s so inherently pathetic and juvenile. Moreover, it’s something that has an ironic, but fitting parallel with radical feminism.

Yes, I know that sounds counter-intuitive. I also imagine there are some self-identified feminists out there who want to punch me through their computer screen. To those individuals, I ask that you restrain yourself for just a moment so I can explain.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I do not associate radical feminism with more mainstream brands of feminism that, for the most part, are fairly reasonable in their rhetoric and sincere in their efforts. I also want to make clear that I do not associate the incel community with men’s rights activists, who are every bit as reasonable and sincere.

The incel community and radical feminists are extremists, plain and simple. They don’t even try to be reasonable. Like the extremists of a religion or political ideology, they cannot and will not be dissuaded. Their attitudes and conduct are built on a foundation of unceasing, uncompromising outrage.

This is where, ironically and fittingly, both incels and radical feminists intersect. They are, to a large extent, defined by their outrage. They despise a world that they feel has deprived them of something they deserve. They carry themselves as perpetual victims, trapped in a society that actively plots against them to keep them miserable.

You don’t have to look too far to see the similarities here. The incel community doesn’t even try to hide its blatant misogyny, just as radical feminists don’t even try to hide their overt man-hating. The targets of their hate are different, but the intent behind it is the same.

The hatred is a catalyst and a rallying point for those inclined to embrace more extreme forms of ideology. That hatred simplifies complex issues, allows them generalize large swaths of people, and believe without question that there’s a cabal of evil bullies actively plotting against them. They are basically the Alex Jones of gender conflicts.

It’s for that reason that few take them seriously, even within feminist and men’s rights communities. Even when a radical feminist claims all heterosexual sex is rape or an incel man claims that all women are sluts, they’re either ignored or written off as trolls. However, in wake of recent events, that’s getting somewhat harder.

Between the attacks in Toronto and the growing spread of outrage culture, both radical feminism and the incel community have many ways of making their voices louder and spreading their hatred. Like any extreme within an ideology, they will complicate or outright corrupt reasonable debate on reasonable issues involving gender.

I believe those issues should be discussed and I’ve tried to approach them on this site in as balanced a way I can, at least to the extent I can as a man and an aspiring erotica/romance writer. However, in the same way creationism obscures science, radical gender ideology obscures real gender issues.

It even goes beyond derailing otherwise important debates about relevant issues. In the one area where both incel men and radical feminists are most alike goes back to their attitudes. Beyond the hate and trolling, there’s one other trait that binds them. They embrace and cling to the idea of perpetual victim-hood.

Incel men believe they are victims of greedy, selfish women who refuse to give them the sex and intimacy they want. Radical Feminsts believe they are victims of a greedy, oppressive patriarchy that only exists to bully them and hold them back. In that context, they are always victims. They never have to claim a shred of responsibility. They can just blame their perceived oppressors.

That’s not just insulting to real victims. It’s flat out lazy. Incel men and radical feminists carry themselves as though other people must go out of their way to give them something, be it sex, justice, or reparations of some sort. They, themselves, don’t have to do anything. They just whine, complain, and shame others to get what they want.

I would call that approach childish, but that would be insulting to children. The absurdity of that mentality is impossible to overstate. However, and I think reasonable feminists and men’s right activists would agree, there are a few basic truths that we all must accept, regardless of our gender.

The universe is not fair.

Some people are born with more advantages than others.

Nobody owes you anything, be it sex or preferential treatment.

Respect, achievement, and merit must be earned and not given.

These are the simple, inescapable facts of life. We learn them at some point in our lives. Some take longer than others, though. What makes incels and radical feminists so similar, and so unworthy of respect, is how they utterly refuse to learn those lessons. As a result, they’re just setting themselves up for more frustration.

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What My Mother Taught Me About Being A Better Man (With Roller Coasters)

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Whenever I get a little personal on this site, I often focus on two topics. One is how awful high school was for me. The other is how awesome my parents are. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m just being honest and truthful. They really are that awesome and I intend to belabor that every chance I get.

As it just so happens, Mother’s Day is tomorrow and since I have such a wonderful mother, I’d like to share a personal story that I hope conveys a larger message about masculinity, in general. I promise this isn’t going to be another complex exploration about bogus topics like “toxic” masculinity or double standards. It’s just a simple story about my amazing mom and how she helped me grow into a better man.

There are a long list of stories I could share. Some of those stories I’m sure my mother would prefer I kept private. There are plenty others I’m sure my mom would love for me to share, if only to document some of the more memorable moments our family has shared over the years. Since I know she occasionally reads this site, I think she’ll agree that this is definitely one worth sharing.

That’s because it involves roller coasters. That’s not some elaborate metaphor. I’m dead serious. This is a story about me, my mother, and roller coasters. It’s kind of what it sounds like, but I promise it has other, more meaningful connotations that I think are wholly appropriate on the eve of Mother’s Day.

First, I need to provide a little context. This particular moment occurred when I was around ten-years-old. That’s relevant because that was the age when I was finally tall enough to ride most of the rides at amusement parks like Six Flags and Kings Dominion. As it just so happens, both are within a two hour drive of where we lived.

My mom, being the wonderful person she is, used that as opportunity to plan a day-long trip to Kings Dominion. I went with my younger brother, my aunt, and a cousin of mine. It was blazing hot, but being an energetic kid, I was too excited to care. I don’t even remember complaining with my mom urged me to put on extra sunscreen.

After spending about an hour just exploring the park, doing some small rides and playing some games, we came across a roller coaster that, to my 10-year-old mind, might as well have been Mount Everest. I’m not saying I was an overly fearful kid, but this was uncharted territory for me. My first instinct was not to go on such a ride.

To some extent, that was my default instinct to that point in my life. I know kids at that age can be both frustratingly reckless or annoyingly helpless with very little in between. It’s an age where kids still cling to the safety of their parents, but are just starting to feel that inclination to explore the world.

I was probably more reluctant than most kids my age. Both my parents and siblings would probably admit that I was a very self-disciplined kid, often to a fault. I did not like going out of my comfort zone and taking chances. I even complained when I had to, as kids are prone to do.

On that day at Kings Dominion, though, my mom gave me an extra push. She never shoved me or pressured me. She got encouraged me, getting excited about the ride so that I got excited too. Before long, that excitement overrode any fear or reservations I had. Thanks to that encouragement, I went on the ride with her and to this date, I feel like that was a pivotal moment in my young life.

At the time, though, it was just an incredible thrill. I loved it. I loved it even more than my mom promised. I remember getting off that ride, feeling dizzy and unable to stand. I probably looked like I was drunk, but I didn’t care. I had so much fun and so did my mom. We went on that ride again.

It was the first of many. From that day forward, my mother and I became the roller coaster aficionados of the family. Whenever we went to an amusement park, be it Kings Dominion, Six Flags, or Disney World, my mom and I would jump at the chance to ride the biggest, scariest ride. Sometimes friends, siblings, and cousins would join us. Other times, they would chicken out. My mom and I never did.

Those were wonderful times. They’re among some of the fondest memories I have with my mother as a kid. Beyond the thrills and adrenaline, though, I find those experiences had another effect on me. This effect was more personal, though. It also played a major part in the critical, yet often treacherous process of a kid growing into an adult.

By taking a chance on those roller coasters, doing something risky for once, my mom taught me a valuable lesson about being an adult and a man. She showed me that sometimes, we need to embrace a little danger. We need to leave the safety of the familiar and explore new, potentially hazardous experiences.

That kind of mentality takes both bravery and even a little foolishness. It’s a combination of traits often associated with masculinity, being willing and able to take those risks for new and exciting experiences. I’m not saying that men are the only ones who have such risk-seeking behavior. Women can be every bit as adventurous, as my mother so aptly demonstrated.

For me, the ten-year-old boy who still saw himself as such, those experiences marked the early steps of a more profound maturation process. It wasn’t just that I was now old enough and tall enough to ride all the roller coasters at most theme parks. I realized that my experiences didn’t just have to be kid-friendly experiences.

I could take chances, venture into once-forbidden areas, and explore life in ways I hadn’t dared. Doing that can be scary and sometimes requires a little encouragement, not unlike the kind my mother gave me that day at Kings Dominion. It can also be very rewarding, as the rush from an awesome thrill ride so wonderfully proves.

I was still a shy, reserved person, even as I entered adulthood. I still took longer than most to emerge from my shell. However, thanks to my wonderful mother and her loving encouragement to try out a few thrill rides, I understood what it meant to be an adult and a strong man.

To my mother, and all those wonderful mothers who encourage their children with the same love and care, I thank you. You helped teach me how to be brave, how to embrace the adult world, and how awesome roller coasters are. For that, I will be forever grateful. To her and to all the other mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

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My Frustrations And Fondness With Bumbling Dad Tropes

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We know them, love them, laugh at them, and cringe at them every now and then. They entertain us. They educate us. They amuse us in any number of ways, both with real-life antics and those only possible through animation. They are the clumsy, bumbling, oafish father figures of popular culture. Compared to many other tropes, they make up a sizable chunk of the overall comedy footprint in our media landscape.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t write that with disdain or dismay. In fact, I’m quite fond of the bumbling father figures that make up a sizable chunk of sitcoms, animated shows, and movies. I grew up on a steady diet of “The Simpson,” “Family Guy,” and “Married With Children.” Characters like Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and Al Bundy have had a profound impact on my world and not just in terms of laughter.

As I get older, though, I find myself scrutinizing the dynamics of these faltering father figures more and more. I also find myself paying more attention to the context and circumstances surrounding them, especially as our media and culture evolves in accord with changing trends, some less positive than others.

Maybe it’s because I’m an adult now. Maybe it’s because, as both an adult and a man, I have too much experience with the larger complexities of the world. I can still laugh every time Homer does something foolish or Peter does something stupid. However, a part of me can’t help but contemplate the larger implications of bumbling dads.

Some of it has to do with double standards, which I’ve talked about many times before. Some of it deals with the struggles/inexperience in developing complex fatherly characters who aren’t blatant rip-offs of Superman, John McClane, Jack Baur, or Ward Cleaver. Most of it simply reflects a sentiment that I find frustrating at times.

Think, for a moment, about the dumbest, most hilariously idiotic antics in a show featuring bumbling dads. “The Simpson,” alone, should give plenty of content to draw from. With those antics in mind, contemplate what those antics say about the bumbling dad as a character and what it says about male characters, as a whole.

Whether he’s Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, or a guy you know in real life who once threw up in a kiddie pool after doing shots of habenero sauce on a dare, the themes are fairly consistent. At the heart of every conflict in the story is a selfish, moronic, thick-headed guy who, if he didn’t have his wife and kids, would’ve been dead by now.

The bumbling dad isn’t just the catalyst for most of the conflicts in the show. He basically embodies the inherent ineptitude of men, as a whole. Whereas strong, independent women are celebrated as a trope of their own, the bumbling dad acts as a case study as to why men can’t function on their own. Unless they have a woman and a family to restrain them, they’ll collapse under the weight of their own stupidity.

It doesn’t just reflect poorly on male characters. It sends a pretty frustrating message to female characters as well, saying that women basically have to act as referees on top of being spouses and mothers. Their role, in the context of the bumbling dad trope, is to either clean up the mess or reign the man in before he does some serious damage.

In a sense, the bumbling dad is the catalyst for the nagging woman, a character not nearly as hilarious that can be every bit as frustrating. One causes all the chaos and problems in a story. The other whines about it and tries to limit the damage, often while failing to teach the bumbling dad any meaningful lessons that’ll help him be less bumbling.

Granted, there are some exceptions to that dynamic. Compared to Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin, Peggy Bundy from “Married With Childrencompletely subverts this trope. Then again, that whole show went out of its way to undermine every standard sitcom trope that ever existed. As I noted before, it’s the kind of show that could never be made today.

Those exceptions aside, the bumbling dad represents another point of frustration that has more to do with the implications of character development, as a whole. It’s a frustration that even plays out in other forms of media that don’t involve idiot married men who only still have their limbs because their wives won’t let them near fireworks.

When you take a step back and look at the kinds of roles bumbling dads have in so many narratives, you notice a number of recurring themes that don’t just reflect poorly on them as men and fathers. They also help enable a lot of the themes that reflect poorly on certain female characters as well.

Essentially, the bumbling dad is allowed to be an idiot with flaws, ineptitude, and shortcomings of all kinds. It’s okay that he make a fool of himself, getting hurt and causing all sorts of damage with his antics. When Al Bundy and his idiot male friends keep falling off a roof, it’s funny and entertaining. If a female character did that, though, that just wouldn’t have the same impact.

Even in shows like “Married With Children,” the female characters were never allowed to fall off a roof, get hurt, or get into fights of any kind. Even when they’re not nagging or trying to be the voice of reason, the female characters are treated as more fragile, needing to fill a more specific role rather than explore the vast array of buffoonery that their male counterparts get to experience.

A female character can’t be bumbling, idiotic, or self-destructive. That would imply she has too many flaws. Even in the days before the recent push for more female representation, that was considered taboo.

A female character can’t be the catalyst for a problem either, unless it involves the moral crusades of Lisa Simpson. The idea of a female character causing anywhere near the problems as a man would just trigger too much outrage for daring to hint that women can be as flawed as men. That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way.

This, essentially, is the driving force behind the frustration. The bumbling dad trope basically gives the impression that men are the only ones who can be foolish, self-destructive, unreasonable, and unlikable. Women can occasionally do those things, but never to the point of the bumbling dad.

In terms of character development, that’s limiting to characters of any gender. It means all the conflict, plot twists, and memorable story elements have to come from the male characters. All the female characters ever do is react, recover, or rebuild from the male character’s antics.

The bumbling dad basically sets up the expectations alongside the comedy. We expect them to do something stupid. We expect them to make a fool of themselves, get hurt, and not think things through. We also expect the women to basically bring them back in line again because without them, they just couldn’t function.

Beyond the expectations, the bumbling dad is basically the crash test dummy for all the chaos within a plot. They’re the ones that get hurt. They bear the brunt end of the physical comedy, be it a slap in the face or constantly falling down a cliff. The idea of women getting hurt just as much, even in an era where the push for tough female characters has never been greater, still doesn’t sit right with audiences.

That says as much about lingering gender norms as it does about bumbling dads, as a whole. Beyond just relegating the comedy and the personal journey to a particular male character, it gives the impression that women aren’t capable of doing foolish things. Anyone with a stable internet connection knows that’s just not true.

Again, this is not to say the bumbling dad trope is inherently “toxic.” I’ve already made clear how much I despise that terminology. There will always be a place for bumbling dads and the comedy they inspire. There’s also plenty of room for non-male, non-dad characters to be foolish as well. When it comes to gender, age, race, and sexual orientation, stupidity is the ultimate egalitarian.

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The (Fragile) State Of Modern Chivalry

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These days, you can’t go more than a few days without hearing someone complaining that chivalry is dead, dying, or some elaborate patriarchal conspiracy to keep women in their place. A few are even arguing it’s part of some matriarchal conspiracy to control men. The very concept of chivalry is in a precarious state is what I’m saying.

Now, I’m somewhat hesitant to write about this because in my experience, both in real life and online, it brings out a lot of mixed sentiments. I’ve met men who resent it. I’ve met women who are outright offended by it. No matter how I approach it, there’s no way to avoid rubbing certain people the wrong way.

Hesitation aside, I do feel compelled to talk about it because the idea of modern chivalry, the kind that involves common courtesy and not the medieval kind that made high school English class so frustrating, is kind of personal to me. That’s because I had awesome, loving parents who went out of their way to teach me and my siblings the manners, attitude, and mentality that go into modern chivalry.

They may not have built their entire parenting strategy around it, but I like to think that them emphasizing it was part of a larger life lesson. It’s one that effects me to this day. I still make it a point to hold doors, pull out chairs, and address people as sir/ma’am. If I don’t, then I feel like I’m not showing the respect I want.

It may not sound like much, but I find myself wondering and worrying about the state of this gender-driven quirk. Some of that worry stems from how relevant those vital lessons my parents taught me are today and whether they’re losing relevance with each passing year. That might just be a byproduct of me getting older, but it does concern me, if only because I feel there’s a lot of gender-driven conflict these days.

To understand why, I need to give a little background as to just how my parents instilled an appreciation of modern chivalry in me and, as a bonus, demonstrate why they’re so awesome. While both my parents were big on teaching me and my siblings manners, my father was more focused in emphasizing courteous behavior.

As a kid, I remember more than one occasion where we would go out somewhere and my father told me to hold the door for women and/or total strangers coming up behind you. It wasn’t just for women either. He made it clear that if you have a chance to hold the door for someone, you do it and you be a gentleman about it.

I only remembered why it was so important on the occasions I forgot. There was this one time when I was around 10-years-old that my parents took me and my siblings to the mall. I, being an overly excited kid, ran out ahead to get inside. In doing so, I forgot to hold the door for a woman and her daughter. My dad did not approve of that.

I vividly recall him catching up with me, grabbing me by the arm, and telling me that if I’m going to run out ahead like that, I damn well better hold the door like a goddamn gentleman. Remember, I was only 10 at the time and my father was holding me to higher standards than that. At the time, I was kind of annoyed, but as I got older, I came to appreciate that lesson.

There were probably other similar incidents. My dad, who I know occasionally reads this site, can probably remember plenty of others like that. I hope they’re still relatively few because as I got older, things like holding doors, pulling out chairs, and saying sir/ma’am became second nature to me. It got to a point where I really didn’t think about it.

Then, in a more recent incident, I had an encounter that kind of worried me. I was walking around my neighborhood. I then make my way into a fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. Since an older woman was behind me, I held the door for them. She smiled and thanked me. I replied with a simple, “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

It was that last part, though, that got a stronger reaction. She was genuinely surprised when I said “ma’am.” It was a pleasant surprised, though. She even went out of her way to thank me for being so courtesy, claiming she doesn’t hear that sort of rhetoric much anymore.

Now, this was not some old woman longing for the good old days, mind you. This woman didn’t look that much older than me. It really caught me off-guard, mostly because I was just doing what my parents had taught me to do all my life. It also kind of worried me, too.

That’s not the first time something like that happened. I’ve said “sir/ma’am” to strangers before and gotten strange looks, both from older and younger crowds. I’ve noticed the older women, though, are the ones that react most often to it. They tend to react most positively as well. Women who are around my age or younger just smile and shrug it off, as though it’s no big deal.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I understand my experiences are purely anecdotal and it’s unreasonable to make broad generalizations about society, as a whole. However, the more reactions of this sort that I encounter, the more I worry that the value of modern chivalry is declining.

That worry, though, is not akin to some old man longing for the good old days. I understand that the good old days are never as good as we remember. I feel a more pressing concern is how this attitude reflects the growing tension between genders that seems to fuel so many conflicts, these days.

I’ve talked about a few of those conflicts, including the absurd ones. A part of me can’t help but wonder whether the lack of a reaction I get from younger women on my chivalrous acts reflects a distressing trend in attitudes towards men, in general.

I worry that recent scandals, trends in feminism, and even a few trends in men’s rights activism are conditioning people to just assume the worst in men, even when they demonstrate good conduct. Assuming the worst in any situation is usually the first step towards falling into a nasty cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

In that context, there’s no behavior, chivalrous or otherwise, that can convince anyone that they’re just trying to be polite. I hold a door for a woman with those assumptions and she won’t see it as good manners. She’ll just see it as some elaborate effort to get into her pants or somehow draw her into a system of patriarchal oppression.

The assumptions are just as bad for the men. I hold a door for a man, or just get seen holding the door for a woman, and the assumption is I’m trapped in some radical feminist agenda that seeks to turn all men into weak, submissive, beta-males. Again, it overlooks the mere possibility that it’s just the kind, courteous, polite thing to do.

I sincerely hope this is just empty concern on my part and the observations I’ve made are just a byproduct of growing cynicism. I also hope that the current state of gender politics doesn’t reduce the concept of modern chivalry to an agenda. Just acting like a decent human being to other people, regardless of their gender, should never be an agenda.

It’ll be interesting to see how the current social landscape evolves over the next several years. How it sees and interprets modern chivalry will reveal a lot about the direction we’re heading with respect to how men and women relate to one another. If every little action suddenly becomes part of an agenda, then I imagine it’ll get a lot harder to just show common courtesy to someone.

I hope it doesn’t get that bad. I sincerely hope that the lessons my parents taught me about showing good manners and common courtesy are just as relevant in the future as they are now. If I ever get around to having kids, I intend to teach them those same lessons.

Some things just don’t need to be part of a gender-driven conflict. They can just be an overly-formal way of showing respect to one another. Call it what you want, be it modern chivalry or just not being an asshole to someone. There’s still a place for it in any society and I believe there always will be.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Joel From “The Last Of Us”

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For the past few years, it has become a popular pasttime to label certain elements of popular culture as toxic or “problematic.” Take any character, song, plot, role, or trope from any brand of media. Apply an excessive amount of scrutiny, distorting it as much as necessary along the way. In the end, some people will find a way to make it offensive.

It’s through that process that shows like “Seinfeld” can be called racist. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” can be called culturally insensitive. Movies like “Big” can be called creepy. Even classic video games like “Mario” and “Zelda” can be considered sexist. Scrutinize it enough and everything becomes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and culturally insensitive.

I find that whole process to be an exercise in trolling that does more to spark outrage than it does meaningful discussion. It’s the same process that created the idea of “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve gone out of my way to deconstruct on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to bemoan all the flaws and frustrations that occur when regressive attitudes mix with regressive agendas. There’s enough debate, discussion, and outright shouting going on in that field as it stands. Instead, I want to shift the tone of the conversation by going to the opposite end of the spectrum.

By that, I mean I’m going to do the opposite of highlighting something that some may find “problematic.” Instead, I’m going to cite something that I think is inherently positive from which we can learn. In fact, I’m going to try and coin a new phrase that’s more uplifting than some of the other buzzwords used by the regressive crowd.

I call it “noble masculinity.” It’s the idea that there are noble, admirable traits in male characters that are worth celebrating in the context of a larger story. Having talked so much about toxic masculinity and why I think it’s such a flawed concept, I feel it’s only fitting that I attempt to counter it with something more positive.

I know it’s popular to criticize and complain about male behaviors these days and, as a man, I don’t deny that we can do some foolish things. However, men are also capable of incredible acts of virtue. Those traits deserve more attention, if only to remind everyone that men can be more than outrage fodder.

There are a lot fictional male characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comics that I could cite who embody positive masculine traits. Characters like Superman, John McClane, and even James Bond come to mind, although I’m sure there are some who would disagree with the last one.

However, in this initial exercise of exploring noble masculinity, I want to cite a lesser-known male character from popular, critically acclaimed video game that some have called the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic of the console generation. That game is called “The Last of Us” and the source of the noble masculinity comes from Joel, the grizzled, yet vulnerable male protagonist of the story.

For those who haven’t played “The Last of Us” or just don’t play video games in general, Joel may initially come off as a mix of old cowboy tropes and John McClane rip-offs. However, by following his story, he reveals a level of depth that includes instances of noble masculinity that men and women alike can appreciate.

Joel’s story is not built on prophecies, superhuman abilities, or dumb luck. As a character and a person, Joel is largely defined by a grit that’s uniquely masculine in many ways. At the beginning of the game, he’s not looking to become part of some larger struggle. He’s just a single dad, trying to make a living and provide for his daughter, Sarah. In world full of dim-witted father figures, it’s pretty refreshing.

Then, within the first 10 minutes of the game, Joel suffers the greatest loss any parent can endure. He tries to protect his daughter from first stages of a full-blown apocalypse, but ultimately fails. He ends up watching his daughter die in his arms. It’s a very emotional moment, one in which Joel’s pain is palpable.

That defining moment establishes Joel as a man who fights to protect those he loves, but is all too human and very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control. There’s only so much that he do when the world around him is falling apart. No amount of anger, lament, or sorrow can change that. He, as a man and a survivor of this apocalypse, has to find a way to cope.

While his coping skills aren’t perfect, as evidenced in many powerful scenes throughout the game, Joel’s grief helps drive him. It also lays the foundation for the emotional development he undergoes after he meets Ellie, his young female co-protagonist who becomes a critical part of the gameplay and the story.

I could probably write another article about Ellie and why she’s one of the most compelling female characters in modern video games, but in the context of noble masculinity, she’s very much a catalyst for Joel’s emotional journey. Her own story is remarkable, but her influence on Joel is where she really shines.

It’s not a case of a knight rescuing a princess or a female character trying too hard to be an equal to her male compatriots. In fact, Joel’s first impression of Ellie isn’t a good one. She comes off as an irritable brat with a bad attitude. Essentially, she’s the kind of immature teenager that guys like Joel go out of their way to avoid.

However, their stories soon become intertwined. They end up having to work together, rely on each other, and fight for one another in order to survive a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by zombies, toxic fungus, and military-enforced curfews. Before long, they establish a bond that brings out the best and worst of both characters.

For Joel, the best is reflected in those same paternal instincts that caused him so much pain and sorrow at the beginning. He comes to see Ellie as a surrogate daughter, of sorts. At times, he resists that and even gets upset when the idea is thrown in his face. In the end, though, he doesn’t avoid it.

As a result, Joel’s story embodies more than the love a father has for his child. It also reveals how willing a man is to form a bond with a total stranger, who is not even that nice to him in the beginning, and tries to protect them with that same paternal dedication. It doesn’t happen all at once. He even resists it at times. He still embraces it and all the tribulations that come with it.

That, more than anything, is the most important element of noble masculinity that Joel embodies. He’s not Superman, nor does he pretend to be. He’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, saying at one point that he trusts others more than he trusts himself. Most men are reluctant to acknowledge such insecurity, let alone reveal it. Joel doesn’t hide from it. If anything, he channels it.

It’s something that resonates with Ellie too. Throughout the game, she has opportunities to cut ties with him and go along with someone who might be better-equipped to help her. However, she choses to stay with Joel. Just as he comes to see her as a daughter, she comes to see him as a father.

The fact that he and Ellie go through this journey in the midst of an ongoing apocalypse makes their bond that much more powerful. It also requires that Joel push himself harder and confront the limitations that kept him from saving his daughter. Being a father made for great sorrow in the past, but it also made him stronger and more determined in the future.

That’s not to say that Joel doesn’t have his low points. There are moments where Joel does not come off as noble. Some even argue that his decisions towards the end of the game undermines his nobility. I would argue that it actually reinforces it.

When the world is already in the middle of an apocalypse and people are willing to sacrifice innocence for what they think is the greater good, then that’s when traits of noble masculinity become most critical. That’s when a father’s willingness to protect his child should be at its strongest.

That dedication still comes at a price. With a sequel in “The Last Of Us Part II” already in the works, it’s likely that Joel will continue to pay a price for his choices, however noble they might be. The fact that he still makes those choices and is willing to accept the risks reflects the challenges and strength that come with masculine drive.

Joel is probably not the greatest example of noble masculinity in all of fiction, but I would argue that his is the most relatable. He’s not perfect, nor does he pretend to be. He doesn’t have any capabilities that are impossible for other men to achieve. He’s a man who was utterly destroyed when he lost his daughter, but didn’t run from the chance to be a father again and to a total stranger, no less.

Flaws and shortcomings aside, I still contend that the noble masculinity that Joel shows throughout “The Last of Us” are far greater than any of the “toxic” traits that others may cite. In playing the game, it’s hard not to empathize with him or his journey, especially if you’re a parent. In appreciating his strengths, though, it shows that there is room for a brand of masculinity that anyone of any gender can admire.

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Five Life Lessons I Learned During My First Visit To A Strip Club

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What can you learn at a strip club that can help you with life in general? That’s not a rhetorical question or something Glenn Quagmire said on an episode of “Family Guy.” That’s a legitimate question with real answers. I know that because I’ve been to strip clubs. I’ve contemplated those questions. I’ve also surmised my share of answers.

I won’t claim those answers are definitive. Everyone’s experience at strip clubs are different, be they of the male or female variety. However, during that fateful first visit to a strip club, I found myself learning a whole lot more than I expected. I went in just hoping to see beautiful women getting naked. It ended up being much more than that.

I’ve shared my love of Las Vegas before. I’ve shared experiences I had and even based one of my novels on both Las Vegas and strippers. The city is near and dear to my heart, is what I’m saying. It’s one big spectacle, one that goes out of its way to overtly sexy. There are sexy shows to see, sexy sites to visit, and plenty of sexy people in general just walking the strip.

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For a lover of romance and all things sexy, Las Vegas is a fantasy paradise. I learned that quickly during my first visit, which occurred shortly after I turned 21. It was a truly magical experience at a time in my life when I was just starting to come out of the shell I’d built around myself during high school.

One of those experiences, naturally, involved my first trip to a strip club. Needless to say, I was excited and anxious. This would be the first time I would be in an adult establishment where I could admire abundant nudity on something other than a computer screen. Like everything else in Las Vegas, it blurred the lines between fantasy and reality in the best possible way.

I won’t share all the details of that first strip club experience, but I will gladly share some of the critical life lessons I learned that night. Out of respect for the women I saw and any legal ramifications, I won’t say which strip club I went to. I’ll just say it was a fairly prominent one that most Las Vegas veterans have heard of.

Again, I won’t claim that these lessons are the definitive insights a man can glean from his first trip to a strip club. Everyone is going to learn different lessons from different experiences. These are just the five lessons I learned during that fateful first adventure into this sexy world.


Lesson #1: Admire, Don’t Stare (And Know The Difference)

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The first thing I noticed when I walked into that strip club for the first time was there was a lot to see. This was Las Vegas, after all. Las Vegas is to strippers what the Pro Bowl is to the NFL. You go into a Las Vegas strip club and you won’t see any rookies. You’ll only see seasoned pros who have the stats, talent, and game.

That said, just looking at all the beautiful women isn’t enough. Staring won’t cut it either. Most women, strippers or otherwise, don’t want to be looked at the same way most look at a golden toilet seat. They want to be admired. Give them that admiration and they’ll show their appreciation, sometimes very directly.

That involves doing more than just staring blankly at a topless woman. It involves smiling, moving a little to the music, and clapping when she does something amazing like hang upside down from one leg. Throw in a few tips and she’ll appreciate it. If she’s generous, she’ll even reward that admiration with some of her own.

During my first visit, I made it a point to single out certain women who was uniquely endowed for her job. By that, I mean she had breasts that were about as natural as the Hoover Dam. As I admired her every move, she responded by mashing my fast between her breasts after I tipped her. That, in many ways, showed me how much more valuable it was to admire a woman rather than just stare at her.

There is a difference. To know the difference, spend some time in front of a mirror. Take a moment to just stare blankly at yourself. Then, put a little effort into admiring yourself. The difference should be obvious. It’s just much more obvious for strippers.


Lesson #2: Personality Helps, But Energy Helps More

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I admit when I first entered the strip club, I was shy and overwhelmed. My social skills were way behind to curve, thanks to all the issues I had in high school. However, I was at a phase in my life when I was just starting to catch up. I wasn’t some moody, self-loathing teenager anymore. I was an adult man with an emerging persona.

That persona helped me stand out in a crowded strip club. I was young, eager, and full of excitement at all the sight of naked women. I admit it was a little immature because of my youth, but I made up for it by having a respectable, endearing personality. The women at the club really responded to it.

However, personality only went so far. That only informed them that I was a decent guy who wasn’t going to drool over them like a slob. To show I was worth getting to know, I had to put a little effort into the experience. I had to take some of that youthful energy I had and make it stand out.

That meant clapping more, cheering more, and smiling more. I showed genuine excitement for the women as they danced, giving compliments and even dancing a little in my seat. I definitely showed more energy than the older guys around me and the fact that the women gave me more attention showed there’s something to be said about channeling your energy.

Excitement is infectious. When someone near you is excited, you tend to get excited to. Human beings are a social species. Strippers are human too and they’re just as prone to getting excited. Sure, it’s part of their job, but a little excitement in your work helps make that work all the more rewarding.


Lesson #3: Half-Truths Are Better Than Outright Lies

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This is one of the tougher lessons I learned in my first visit to a strip club. Las Vegas is a fantasy town and people love fantasy, in general. There’s a time to be blunt and brutally honest about who you are or why you’re doing something. A strip club in Las Veags isn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean lying, though. I came into that strip club with a roll of $20s. I even made sure that roll was thicker than it really was, which the Bouncer seemed to notice. That, in turn, got me a front-row seat and some extra attention from the bartender. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t the son of a wealthy hedge fund manager. I did’t tell them I wasn’t, either. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to let others assume.

When talking to the strippers, though, you can’t rely too much on assumptions. You also can’t blurt out every detail of your life story. I got a little overly chatty with a couple women early. At some point, I realized that throwing too much hard truth in a fantasy setting was really a turn-off. To the credit of the women working there, they didn’t make it more awkward than it needed to be.

I quickly learned that it works better to use half-truths or vague hints about why you’re there. If someone asks how much money you have, don’t give an exact dollar figure. When one woman asked me, I just responded with, “That depends.” That wasn’t entirely wrong or wholly true, but it sent the right message.

More than anything else, I learned that it helps to be a mystery to people to some extent. That’s not just a tactic to pretend you’re a high roller with a stripper. It’s a way of getting someone interested in you and actually wanting to learn more about you. Whether they’re just looking for a tip or seeking true love, leave them with something to find. They may end up finding more than they expect and you’ll be better for it.


Lesson #4: Know How To Negotiate Your Intentions And Desires

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There are a lot of official and unofficial rules in a strip club. Officially, these beautiful women are there to entertain you, entice you, and extract tips. That’s it. That’s the end of the arrangement. If you’re looking for them to be your girlfriend, your therapist, or your servant for a day, you’re undermining the rules.

In strip clubs, the dynamic is much more overt. In exchange for money and attention, the strippers give you a fantasy and some intimate affection. You want something from them. They want something from you. The key is negotiating the best way to get it. Neither of you will always get what you want, but understanding the rules and being able to negotiate will go a long way.

In many respects, my first trip to a strip club gave me a crash course in what it meant to convey my attentions and negotiate with someone on getting what I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t just about saying, “Here’s some money. Let me touch your boobs.” It was more akin to, “I want an experience. How can I convince you to help me make it?”

Outside a strip club, we negotiate our desires all the time. Sometimes it’s with a lover, a co-worker, or a relative. Sometimes it’s with a total stranger. In any case, there’s are rules and expectations. If you try to subvert those rules or make unreasonable expectations, you’re bound to run into trouble. In a strip club, that can get you thrown out. In real life, that can have even worse consequences.

Like it or not, people in the real world usually want something from you. Whether it’s money or love, the key is navigating it responsibly. Going to a strip club gave me a chance to be more direct about it and it was a great experience. Being able to see beautiful women naked was a nice bonus as well.


Lesson #5: How You Present Yourself Matters As Much As What You Say

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This is where I kind of have to give credit to my mother. Yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say about experiences involving strip clubs, but I think this warrants an exception. Before I even left for Vegas, my mom insisted I get some fancy new clothes that were nicer, albeit less comfortable than I was used to. Even though I complained at first, I’m really glad she convinced me to spruce up my wardrobe.

When I ventured into the strip club, I wore a nice button-up shirt, a new set of jeans, and dress shoes that most guys wouldn’t wear outside a wedding. I definitely didn’t look like some college student just experiencing Vegas for the first time. I looked like a refined, well-dressed, well-groomed gentleman. That sends a powerful message to men and women alike.

It showed in the way the bouncer was extra nice to me. It also showed in the way the bartenders and strippers treated me. Compared to some of the other men in that club, who were primarily wearing T-shirts and flip-flops, I stood out for all the right reasons. I sent the message that I care enough about myself to look good. I also sent the message that I care about presenting a good image of myself to others.

That sort of approach doesn’t just attract a man to strippers. It attracts a man to everyone. I know it sounds obvious, but I don’t think some people appreciate the true impact that presentation has on others. I treated going into a strip club kind of like a job interview. I wanted to look my best and present myself as someone worthy of attention.

In addition to good clothes, presenting yourself with confidence and energy helps supplement your efforts. It says even more about the kind of person you are. It gives the impression that you’re excited about life and you want to share it. The inherent social nature of people in general will draw them to you. It’s simple biology.


That, my friends, concludes my list of critical lessons that I learned from a strip club. To the women working at that club and the fine folks who managed it, I sincerely thank you. You taught me more about life than just the inherent beauty of topless women. I hope others can draw from those lessons as well. When applied properly, they can help you in ways that go beyond having a great time at a strip club.

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On Gender Double Standards And Male Strippers

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When I was 21-years-old, I took my first trip to Las Vegas. It was truly a magical experience. Even though I was young and socially awkward at the time, I had a lot of fun there. It was the first time I had been somewhere that really treated sex like a spectacle. That spectacle can bring out a very different side of people.

One incident, in particular, really exemplified this during that first fateful trip. It occurred when I was walking down Fremont Street, also known as the old part of Las Vegas. This is the area that gets glorified in gangster movies like “Casino.” Today, it’s largely full of street performers, tacky vendors, and Elvis impersonators.

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However, the one spectacle that stood out most occurred when I passed by an unusual crowd near the Golden Nugget. The crowd was unusual because it consistent mostly of women and they were making noises that I had never heard women make to that point in my life.

When I moved in closer, I saw that the source of the spectacle were a few male strippers, specifically the big, muscular types that worked at places like Chippendales. Despite being straight and shy at the time, even I found these guys to be attractive. However, it was the behavior of the women that really stood out.

They were all over these guys. They were cheering and laughing as though they had just won the lottery. They were taking turns hugging them, kissing them, and feeling around their perfectly chiseled muscles. Some women had this look on their face that resembled a kid looking at a giant chocolate cake. It was quite a sight.

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Keep in mind, these weren’t Las Vegas showgirls. Most of these women looked like soccer moms who could’ve easily been friends with my parents. At that moment, though, they were utterly uninhibited. The things they said to those strippers, and on a public street no less, would’ve made an experienced porn star blush.

At the time, it was just an amazing sight that I hadn’t seen before in my youth. As the years have gone by, though, that experience has taken on a very different context. That context has gained even greater meaning as trends in feminism, popular culture, and social justice have really changed the conversations we have about gender.

The particulars of that conversation really stand out when you focus on strippers. Specifically, the double standards within those conversations become a lot more apparent. I know I talk about double standards a lot, but some are more egregious than others. I would even go so far as to say that those involving strippers are most revealing, if that’s not too loaded a term.

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For any man who has gone to a strip club featuring female strippers, most quickly learn that there’s a lengthy set of guidelines to follow. I freely admit to going to multiple strip clubs so I’m pretty familiar with all of them. They usually involve these kinds of  rules.

  • Do NOT touch or grope the strippers while on stage or during a lap dance
  • Do NOT try to solicit sex or sexual services from the strippers
  • Do NOT yell at or disrupt the stripper while they’re on stage
  • Do NOT invite a stripper back to your hotel room or to a private residence
  • Do NOT address the strippers in a vulgar manner

There are usually other rules, but these are the most basic. Every strip club is different and some are better about enforcing those rules than others. For the most part though, these are the expectations and failure to meet them often means getting thrown out or arrested.

The rules and expectations for male strip clubs, however, are very different. It’s not just that it tends to be louder and more intimate, so to speak. There are things women do at male strip clubs that would get most men thrown out of female strip clubs, if not arrested.

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A couple years ago, Vice compiled testimony from male strippers about some of the behavior they encountered during their work. Their experiences included, but weren’t limited to being puked on by drunk women, women getting up on the stage to dance with them, and being flat out groped.

It’s also both common and expected that women will hook up with male strippers. Sometimes they’ll offer money. Sometimes they won’t. In either case, it’s exceedingly rare for them to face scrutiny or arrest for that sort of behavior. In fact, some even see it as empowering.

Never mind the fact that such empowerment requires such an apparent double standard. Women being sexually uninhibited and free to pursue whatever decadence they want is seen as liberating. However, men doing the same is seen as oppressive. The principles and mechanics are the same. The social stigma is not.

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That stigma also effects women in more indirect ways. There are more than a few stories about women being fired from their jobs after someone found out they worked as a stripper or porn star. Men who work as strippers, though, don’t usually have this issue. Former stripper Amber Rose pointed that out, noting how men like Channing Tatum get praised for his portrayal of a stripper while she still faces stigma for her past.

In both instances, the stigma is damaging. The double standards are asinine. Sure, you could argue that patriarchal traditions have helped forge these standards, making overly sexualized women taboo while overly sexualized men are prized. However, as with most double standards, they still require one too many assumptions and just as many taboos.

In both cases, the double standard is built around the idea that women should be sexually limited in most aspects of her life. There are even those who claim that women being sexually uninhibited undermines civilization. Nobody should take those claims seriously. Chances are those same people have unhealthy, regressive views about sexuality in general.

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That same standard also asserts that men are unthinking, unfeeling beasts. They want to be objectified by women. They’re expected to be dispassionate brutes who exist only to lure women into their bed the same way a rancher would herd cattle. Never mind the fact that some male strippers do indeed feel objectified. Their feelings don’t matter as much as their female peers.

However, while female objectification is decried, male objectification is celebrated at male strip clubs and movies about them. At the same time, women who dare to be sexual, either as strippers or just in general, are subject to stigma and scorn. Both are a byproduct of sexual repression and both are equally wrong.

Therein lies the most revealing implications about this double standard. It essentially exposes the script that men and women are expected to follow with sexuality. In that sense, I honestly can’t blame the women I saw that day in Las Vegas for going so nuts around those male strippers. They’re scorned for doing that in every other aspect of their lives. When they finally get a chance to break free, they go all out.

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Conversely, men still have to follow the script. They still have to jump through all the hoops and layers that tell them their desire for sex is inherently damaging. Their desire to just indulge in one of the most basic acts of intimacy in nature is an oppressive force, one that must be mitigated by the strict rules and guidelines prescribed by strip clubs.

In the end, strip clubs are a microcosm of the different sexual expectations for men and women. One form of sexuality is damaging, oppressive, and needs to be managed. The other is liberating, empowering, and forcibly contained by taboos and stigma. The fact that strip clubs even exist in the first place are a hint that those expectations are not entirely healthy for either gender.

 

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