Tag Archives: masculinity

Dangerous Double Standards And The Distressing Stories They Tell


When it comes to conveying complex ideas in an understandable way, I don’t consider myself exceptionally skilled. When it comes to telling a story, though, that’s a skill I know I have and not just because I aced every essay question in college.

Sometimes, a story is the best way to convey an idea and the emotional weight it carries. Anyone can list the details of complex issues like gun control, abortion rights, or net neutrality. Some, like John Oliver, can even make it funny or entertaining. However, explaining what an issue is doesn’t necessarily convey why it matters.

Whenever I talk about gender double standards, be it uncomfortable thought experiments or imbalances in our sexual attitudes, I try to do so in a way that highlights the larger implications. Those implications, I believe, are part of the reason why there’s so much hostility on issues like the anti-harassment movement, representation in popular culture, and fair treatment under the law.

I don’t want to belabor the points I’ve made on that topic in the past. Instead, I want to tell a quick story that I thought about turning into a short novel. Then, something happened in the process that struck me on a personal level. Read the following story and see if you can tell where the process broke down.

An average man, single and living alone, is walking down the street on a Saturday evening. It’s cold and rainy. Not many people are out in these conditions.

Then, as he passes by the dumpster near his home, he sees a girl who can’t be older than 10-years-old huddling under some dirty boxes. She’s wearing dirty clothes, she’s shivering, and is clearly in a bad situation.

The man feels sorrow and concern for the girl. He asks her where her parents are. He learns that the girl has run away. Her mother was abusive, even showing him some scars she had from when her mother cut her with a fork. Horrified, the man offers to help the girl. She eagerly accepts.

The man takes the girl home, gives her some badly-needed food, lets her take a hot bath, and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning, he calls social services and finds out the girl’s mother is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed and under-staffed, they are unable to find any relatives to take care of her.

Having grown fond of her company, he offers to look after her. The girl eagerly accepts. The man spends the next several weeks caring for her, getting her new clothes and introducing her to his family. At first, his parents and siblings are uncertain about him taking care of a kid. When they meet her and see how much she loves him, their worries quickly fade.

As time goes on, the girl comes to love the man as a father. She starts calling him daddy. At first, he keeps reminding her that he’s not her real father. Soon, he stops and just smiles. The girl enriches his life in ways he never imagined. He wants to be a father to this girl who isn’t his. He wants to love her in the way she deserves.

Then, one day, a woman arrives at his door. She’s angry, disheveled, and badly dressed. She claims to be the girl’s mother. When the girl sees her, she’s terrified and hides behind the man in fear. The man demands that she leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. He threatens to call the police, but she threatens to do the same.

She then takes a step closer, revealing bad teeth, foul breath, and loveless eyes, and presents him with an ultimatum. If he doesn’t hand over the girl, she’ll call social services, the police, and the local news crew and tell him that he’s a sick pervert who took a girl off the streets just so he could groom her to be his personal slave.

It doesn’t stop there. She points out that he’s single, unmarried, and living by himself. Conversely, she’s just a poor woman who got taken advantage of by the girl’s biological father, fled out of fear for their safety, and got tragically separated in the process. All she wants to do is get her daughter back and away from a sadistic pervert. She even says she’ll claim he gave her all the girl’s scars.

In that story, he won’t be the man who took a poor little girl under his care and loved her like a father. He’ll become a disgusting pervert, his reputation destroyed and his life ruined. The fact the girls loves him will just be proof of how much he’s groomed her to be his slave.

The man is horrified. The girl says her mother is a liar and a monster. The woman just laughs before asking one more time for the man to hand over the girl. The man, seeing the terrified look in the girl’s eyes, doesn’t want to see her suffer. He then gets up in her face and tells her this.

“You stay the hell away from her! She belongs with me! Lie all you want. I know the truth and so does she.”

The woman just shakes her head and laughs again.

“It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Everyone will believe me at my worst before they believe you at your best.”

This is as far as I could take the story. At this point, the creative process broke down for me. For someone like me who loves telling stories, sexy or otherwise, that’s akin to tripping over my own feet in the middle of a race. It usually takes a lot for me to throw my hands up and give up on a story. This was one of them.

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That’s because when I imagined that final confrontation, I could not come up with a way to see it through. I can easily see the man fighting the woman’s accusations and winning out in the end. I can also see the woman winning out and the man having his life ruined, all because he showed compassion for a little girl.

The fact that I can see both outcomes as equally possible really bothers me and not just because I found myself unable to finish the story. In telling that story, I touched on a disturbing implication of double standards and the assumptions we have about men, women, and how they treat one another.

The story was partially inspired by an incident in the UK where a man, who happens to be a widower, took his teenage daughter on a vacation. When they checked into a motel, though, the staff got suspicious that an older man was traveling with a teenage girl. They called the police on him, suspecting that he might be a pedophile.

 The dad and daughter were staying over for trip to Thorpe Park together

By most measures, it’s a simple, albeit egregious misunderstanding. It deeply disturbed the girl and put the father in a terrible position. He was able to show the staff pictures and IDs to prove that he was the girl’s father and not some pervert. The damage was done, though.

When I read that story, I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if the man hadn’t had those family pictures. Then, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man wasn’t a blood relative of the girl. Then, and this is where the impact got especially heavy, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man had just tried to help a girl who had run away and had nowhere to go.

If he had been a woman helping a 14-year-old girl in her time of need, I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. However, because this involves a man and expectations about parenting is different for men, the situation takes on a much darker undertone.

Image result for man with daughter

That undertone highlights why these gender double standards can be so damaging. It’s one thing for those standards to inspire overplayed tropes about men in sitcoms. When they create a real incentive for people to not do the compassionate thing, that’s not just a problem. That creates real, tangible harm in the world.

Men are capable of kindness and compassion. Most decent people believe this. However, when there’s a situation in which assuming the best for one gender requires that you assume the worst for another, that reflects the kind of double standard that needs to be confronted.

We’re already seeing men show more reluctance in being alone with women. Any level of reluctance requires a certain level of fear. When it gets to a point that just being alone with another human being scares us, then that’s a sign that something is very wrong with our attitudes.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

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

Love, Intimacy, And The Making Of Mass Murderers


Every now and then, I feel compelled to comment on an ongoing story that I know is still raw in the minds of many people. Usually, I try to wait for the worst of the storm to pass. When it comes to school shootings and spree killers, though, I think the recent events in Parkland have shown that time can only do so much to temper the horror.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am very hesitant to talk about this topic. Whenever it comes up, and it comes up way too often, my first instinct is to keep my mouth shut and not add to the noise, outrage, and anguish that it evokes in people.  The last thing I want to do is add to the pain of such losses or encourage those who would use it to further an agenda.

Image result for Sean Hannity

However, there is one part of this issue that I feel is worth talking about, even when the memories of such a terrible event are still raw. In fact, I think it should be discussed while we’re all more aware of the terror caused by such heinous crimes. No, I’m not talking about guns, although that is a discussion worth having. I’m talking about the forces that turn people into mass murderers in the first place.

This is one of those issues where everyone has an opinion, but nobody has any answers. Whenever there’s a mass shooting, any attempt to explain it is basically a media Rorschach test where if you want to blame a certain thing for mass shootings, you can. The fact that it fits with someone’s beliefs, politics, and agenda is not a coincidence.

With the Parkland shooting, the results of this test are already playing out. We’ve got people blaming everything from bad parenting to video games to mental health. Some are already forming conspiracy theories about it, which are sure to embolden the professional trolls of the world. Agenda or not, there’s an inherent need to point fingers and seize upon an simple explanation to make sense of such horror.

Image result for finger pointing after a shooting

While I understand the desire to make sense of something so terrible, I also think the search for a simple, easy-to-identify explanation is inherently misguided. I also think there’s no such thing as an easy explanation when it comes to deviant human behavior. Human beings are complex creatures. The sheer breadth of thought and personalities makes it next to impossible to predict what goes on in the mind of a mass killer.

That said, there is one aspect that I feel is worth touching on, if only because it rarely comes up when everyone begins the finger-pointing after a mass killing. It’s not related certain forms of media. It’s not some weapon or product that can be regulated or banned either. It’s not even some sort of mental illness that can be treated with overpriced medication.

Image result for young men with mental illness

This factor in the minds of such deranged individuals, which I believe is a factor worth considering, doesn’t have an easy label to slap onto it. However, it does consist of three simple components that are fundamental to the human experience.

  • Love
  • Intimacy
  • Belonging

I know those all sound like things you’d expect an aspiring erotica/romance writer to cite, but I’m dead serious when I say these are factors we should consider when contemplating the mentality of a spree killer. Specifically, it’s the absence of these factors that needs greater scrutiny when studying a deviant mind.

When it comes to mass killers, there are all sorts of stereotypes, some of which are more common than others. They’re often angry, lonely, isolated, self-centered, emotionally muted, and impulsive. Some even have real medical issues. The infamous shooter of the University of Texas in 1966 had a brain tumor and prescription drugs in his system.

Image result for Texas clock tower shooting

Like most stereotypes, though, the profile of mass killers is not universal. Even if you take all the scientific data we have on the twisted minds of these people, it doesn’t create a clear or predictable picture. That’s why predicting these horrific events is impossible. We never truly know when someone is just going to snap.

It’s for that reason that, rather than focus on the traits these mass killers have, we should take time focus on the traits of those who don’t become violent or deviant. Rather than agonize over what went wrong, we should also note what goes right when someone becomes a healthy, productive member of a society.

Since society, as a whole, is so complex and our modern civilization is so diverse, it helps to narrow in on the more basic units of society. From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, a hunter/gatherer society provides the simplest approach. I’ve used this example before when discussing our pre-modern sex lives, but it’s just as useful when assessing the raw basics of human experience.

Image result for Adam and Eve in paradise

Within that society, those three factors I mentioned aren’t just present. The society doesn’t work without them. In a hunter/gatherer society, everyone has a role to play and a purpose to contribute. You hunt, you gather, and you share those resources within a close-knit community.

That close-knit component is where the love comes in. On top of having a clear role and a defined purpose, members of a hunter/gatherer society are surrounded by family, friends, and community that loves and supports one another. It’s not just out of charity either. That love and support keeps the society strong, providing emotional fulfillment in addition to the physical fulfillment from sharing resources.

From that love and fulfillment, a sense of intimacy naturally follows. I’m not just talking about sexual intimacy either, although the behavior of the notoriously non-violent Bonobo chimps does strongly hint at its value. In a close-knit community, being able to open up and embrace others is part of what binds that community. It helps make each individual within that community stronger, mentally and physically.

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That’s not to say those communities never have a deviant or a psychopath every now and then. Within this simple template, though, it’s easier to understand the core needs of the human psyche. It’s not just food and water that a person needs to survive. They also need love, intimacy, and a sense of belonging to give their lives a sense of purpose.

As a result, there is a growing body of evidence that those hunter/gatherer societies were exceedingly peaceful. Sure, there were a few tribal conflicts here and there, but there’s little evidence that someone who grew up in such a close-knit community went onto become a spree killer.

Image result for hunter gatherer societies today

With that basic understanding in mind, look back at the long list of spree killers. Look at their personal stories, which vary from tragic to affluent. Now, look at how much or how little love, intimacy, and belonging they had in their lives. To some, it may seem like they had everything they needed. However, that doesn’t mean that’s how they felt as they went down that dark path that led them to commit such atrocities.

To some extent, it’s a lot easier to feel isolated, alone, and unloved in our modern civilization. We don’t function in small, close-knit tribes anymore. We regularly find ourselves surrounded by all these people that we don’t know, don’t understand, and have no intimate connection with.

On top of that, seeking love and intimacy beyond family is much harder, especially for men. Some have even pointed out that many of these mass killers lack any semblance of a satisfying sex life and growing sentiments that demonize men’s sexual expression isn’t helping. While I don’t think a lack of sex is as big a factor as some claim, I think it does contribute to a certain extent.

Image result for lonely man

In a world where these men don’t need to hunt or gather, have no sense of purpose or role, and have limited outlets for intimacy and sex, what does this do to their minds? I’ve mentioned before why I believe solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of torture, but its effects need not be confined to a cell.

Human beings are complex and adaptive, but they’re also vulnerable. Strain them in any number of directions and there’s sure to be damage. I know people who have endured such damage. I, personally, have had my own struggles. However, I’m lucky to have a very supportive, very loving family that has always been there for me. I believe that love is a big part of what has helped me live, love, and function.

Image result for group of people hugging

We may never know what goes on in the mind of a mass murderer or someone who just up and snaps. Until we can actually read the thoughts of someone, which we are working on, we can’t know whether a mass murderer just didn’t get a lot of love in life or if he just played too many violent video games as a kid.

That still won’t stop people from pointing fingers and pursuing agendas. It’s only natural to want to blame something in wake of such a terrible tragedy. Atrocities, like mass shootings, are the result of something that went horribly wrong within a person and a society. It’s certainly worth scrutinizing those flaws, but it’s also worth remembering what happens when it goes into making it right.

Image result for group of people hugging

Human beings are capable of unspeakable atrocities, but they are also capable of wonderful acts of kindness. Understanding what goes into forging these kind, loving souls will be the most potent recourse in preventing these terrible tragedies. There’s a lot that goes into creating such souls, but love, intimacy, and belonging will likely be the core ingredients.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature

Ode To Tomboys And How One Made Me A Better Person

I try not to get personal on this site too often. When I do, though, I try to make an important point that others can learn from. That’s not easy, since everyone’s personal experiences are different. When one of those stories resonates, though, it’s a beautiful thing.

With that beauty in mind, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate a certain female persona that tends to evoke mixed emotions in people. For me, though, that persona has a special place in my heart because certain women have influenced me in a major way. That persona, in this case, is that of the female tomboy.

I know the stereotypical tomboy isn’t known for her sex appeal. She doesn’t come off like the kind of person who would inspire an aspiring erotica/romance writer. However, I think the appeal of a tomboy goes far beyond how little she has in common with the cast of “Mean Girls.”

I’m guessing that most people knew someone growing up who fit the mold of a tomboy. She was a girl, but she didn’t have “girly” interest. She liked sports. She liked cars. She liked to hang out with boys, didn’t care for makeup, and didn’t mind getting her nails dirty. Whether she was a friend, relative, or classmate, she probably stood out more than most.

There’s all sorts of social and psychological insights into what makes a girl a tomboy. I don’t want to get too much into that. For this, I want to keep things personal. I want to tell a short story about how a very special tomboy influenced me in a positive way, one that I still feel to this day.

Out of respect for her privacy, as well as the fact that I haven’t kept in touch with her, I won’t use her real name. From here on out, I’m just going to call her Carly. If, by some remote chance she ever reads this, she’ll probably recognize the importance of that name. She may even recognize me. I hope that happens because I don’t think she knows what a profound impact she had on me.

I knew Carly from grade school. We met when we were in the third grade and we shared the same classes until grade six. That’s a pretty critical time because we were both still kids, but were on the edge of puberty. While I don’t think it played too great a role at the time, I think it influenced the context of our friendship and our connection.

What made Carly stand out, even for a kid like me, was the fact that she didn’t look like the kind of hardcore tomboy you’d imagine after seeing “Little Giants.” If you randomly met her in public, you wouldn’t know she was a tomboy, but you would probably expect it. While she did look feminine, she never wore dresses, skirts, or makeup.

If you spent any amount of time with her, you learned quickly that Carly wasn’t a typical girl. She didn’t conduct herself like the other girls I knew. Whenever we did group projects, she worked with boys. Whenever we had lunch at the cafeteria, she sat with the boys. It wasn’t that she hated other girls. She just preferred being around boys, myself included.

I didn’t think too much of that until I saw her doing more than just being around boys. What made Carly special was how she went out of her way to match other boys in terms of skill, grit, and strength. While the other girls hung out on the playground, Carly was playing basketball and football. While those same girls talked about boy bands, she talked about who won on Monday Night Football.

I remember multiple instances where the boys got together to play touch football and she would be the only girl who wanted to play. We let her too. None of the other boys joked about it. There was this unspoken rule that Carly was one of the guys. She proved that she belonged. Anyone who gave her crap about it was not welcome.

Keep in mind, these are pre-teen boys who still think cooties are a thing. These are boys whose maturity level is limited by the amount of cartoons they watched that same morning. The fact that none of them gave Carly a second look, nor did they question her ability, says as much about them as it does about her.

More than any other girl, at that time, Carly fascinated me. I watched as she ran alongside other boys during gym class, playing sports like football and baseball better than some of the other boys I knew. Being so young, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I just knew I had to go out of my way to hang out with her and be friends with her.

While I won’t say we were close friends, we did know each other. We recognized each other outside of class. That eventually culminated in a moment that would both solidify Carly’s place in my memory and inspire me in ways I didn’t appreciate until later in life. That moment occurred when I was in little league one year.

From the time I was in first grade until the time I went to middle school, I played little league baseball. I loved baseball as a kid and it was the only sport I ever felt passionate enough about to play seriously. In all those years of playing little league, I played with a lot of other boys, some more memorable than others. However, through those same years, only one girl ever dared to play little league with boys and that was Carly.

I still remember the day when I saw her run out onto the field, a dirty old hat and a new baseball glove in hand. I had no idea she would be on my team, but when I saw her, I remember smiling. I even watched as she fielded pop flies and practiced batting with the coach. While I wouldn’t say she was our best player, she held her own. She could throw, run, hit, and catch. She wasn’t just a tomboy. She was an athlete.

In later years, that memory has taken on far greater meaning. Remember, I was a kid at the time. I was still at an age where girls might as well have been another species. Since pre-school, boys hung out with boys. Girls hung out with girls. We didn’t question it. We just separated ourselves, as though it had been ordained.

Carly showed that those unwritten rules weren’t really rules. She showed that girls didn’t have to be that different. Girls could still like boyish things. They could also be tough, play sports, and relate to boys just as well as they did with girls. Carly embodied that spirit better than anyone I’d known before or since. She was like a kid version of Rhonda Rousey.

That may not sound like much on the surface, but I can’t overstate the importance of that influence. The fact that I knew a girl who could so comfortably embrace boyish things made me question whether the divide between genders really mattered that much. The older I got, the more I realized how arbitrary that divide truly was. Carly was living proof of that.

It was because of Carly that I began interacting more with girls. This did make me a bit weird in the eyes of other boys. I started seeking out female company before it was considered cool for a kid. I like to think that gave me a head start on puberty in that it prepared me to appreciate female company better than most.

It’s also through my interactions with Carly that I stopped trying to talk to girls as though they were so radically different. In doing so, I realized that girls can talk about things like sports, cartoons, and even comics. While these girls might not have been tomboys like Carly, we were capable of sharing the same interests.

Conversely, it showed me that boys can share girls’ interests as well. To me, that was a big deal because it’s through dealing with girls that I developed a fondness for romance. Whereas boys may look at movie, comic, or TV show and appreciate the action, I often found myself appreciating the romantic sub-plots. I don’t think I would’ve had the mind to appreciate those things without Carly.

For that, I’ll always be grateful to her. At the same time, I regret not being a closer friend with her or keeping in touch with her. In my defense, we ended up going to different middle schools so we never got a chance. I would still love to know what came of her. She struck me as the kind of girl who would go far in life.

I don’t know if she outgrew her tomboy persona, as many girls do. Even if she did, Carly’s influence on me was a turning point. I may have been a kid when I knew her, but she inspired in me the kinds of ideas that shaped me into the man I am today. I like to think I’m a better overall person because of it.

Dealing with Carly helped me interact better with girls and people who were different from me, in general. Carly also proved to me that girls and boys weren’t so different after all. We could relate to one another, work together, and grow together. As a kid, that’s a radical concept. As an adult, that’s an important life lesson that helps men and women alike appreciate each other.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, sexuality

Five New Years Resolutions We Should All Make For 2018

Christmas is over. The last major holiday of 2017 has come and gone. Now that we’re done opening presents, roasting chest nuts, and getting drunk on eggnog, we turn our attention to 2018.

2017 was a long, eventful year to say the least. It started with plenty of controversy and plenty more followed it over the course of the year. Along the way, this blog underwent some enormous growth in terms of traffic. I also got finalized the release schedule for my next novel, “Rescued Hearts.”

While there were plenty of positives in 2017, especially if you’re a New England Patriots fan, I think this year will go down as one most people would rather forget. There are many reasons for that, but I don’t want to focus too much on those. I’d like to look to the future rather than lament on the past and not just because the future may have sex robots.

With every new year comes renewed hope. With renewed hope comes an opportunity to make things better than the year that came before it. However bad 2017 might have been, 2018 offers an opportunity to make it better. It’s an opportunity we should all collectively seize.

As such, I’d like to propose a brief list of New Years Resolutions for 2018. These aren’t resolutions for just one specific person or group. These are resolutions that, I hope, will apply to everyone and benefit everyone. The events of 2017 gave us all too many reasons to be jaded and cynical. With these resolutions, I believe we can make 2018 much better.

Resolution #1: React, But DON’T Overreact

This should be at the top of everyone’s list of New Years Resolutions in 2018. To hell with trying to lose weight. Make this the cornerstone of your effort to do better in the new year.

A good chunk of 2017 was built on a foundation of continue, unceasing overreactions to everything from the fan response to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to a typo on a tweet by the President to how Kellyanne Conway sits. I get it. People are passionate about what they’re passionate about.

However, there’s a fine line between passion and outrage and nobody even tries to walk it anymore. Passion is good in that it can be channeled. Outrage is not because it’s just glorified yelling and whining, which rarely adds anything meaningful to a conversation. Sure, it’ll get attention to an issue, but it won’t do much to solve it.

Now, that’s not to say we should stop reacting to things that outrage or offend us, but we should make a concerted effort to not overreact. That way, our overall response is more meaningful and substantive. We need more of that in 2018 because we sure as hell didn’t get it in 2017

Resolution #2: Acknowledge The Positives And Don’t Belabor The Negatives

This may sound like something an idealistic guidance counselor may say. I admit it’s cheesy, but I think it has merit. One thing I noticed in 2017 that I found very distressing was how eager and quick everyone was to focus on the negatives of any issue.

It’s not enough that some person, group, or organization did something controversial. Everything about that action has to be terrible, evil, and an affront to all that is decent in the world. Whether it’s the President, a Hollywood celebrity, or a controversial policy made by a video game company, it’s only the worst parts that seem to get the energy and attention.

I don’t doubt there are negatives in a lot of these issues, but they don’t encompass the entirety of an issue. People and the world around them is more complicated than that. The truth is there are silver linings. It’s rare that an issue is so lopsided that there’s no possible benefit to consider.

I’ve tried to do my part, pointing out the silver lining to the surge of sex scandals that came out in 2017 involving powerful men. It wasn’t much, but I like to think it serves as an extra bit of perspective for 2018. There will always be plenty of bad news to go around, which makes highlighting the positives all the more important.

Resolution #3: Acknowledge Another Point Of View (Even If You Don’t Agree With It)

This feels like one of those resolutions we should’ve had at the beginning of 2017, but just let it slip aside because we were too busy processing how the Falcons collapsed in the Super Bowl. In addition to the constant outrage that dominated 2017, there was also a growing inability by anyone with an opinion to acknowledge the other side of an argument.

It’s not just on message boards, YouTube videos, and protests. The entire year of 2017 seemed like a testament to increasing polarization of everything from politics to the Season 3 finale of “Rick and Morty.” If there was a middle ground, it was either ignored or blown up with a fury of collective outrage.

More than ever, people are convinced that their ideas are correct and anyone who disagrees with them might as well be a card-carrying Nazi. It’s like Godwin’s law became a goddamn commandment and as a result, nobody is listing to anyone else make their point. It’s worse than a political echo-chamber. It’s a brutal cycle of self-glorification and never-ending frustration.

There is an easy remedy to that, but it involves taking a deep breath and actually listening to someone make their arguments. I know that’s hard when it’s so much easier and more cathartic to remain outraged, but inherently more productive and gives people fewer excuses to hate each other. Seeing as how we have enough of those, this resolution should be a high priority.

Resolution #4: Be Willing To Trust, But Eager To Verify

Another common theme of 2017 that we should avoid carrying into 2018 had to do with accusations. At first, it was just everyone accusing everyone else of being a Nazi, a racist, a bigot, and whatever other insult you see in the YouTube comments section of the “Ghostbusters” trailer. However, it got much worse and for good reason.

Like it or not, 2017 will go down as the year that sexual misconduct by men of significant power became a huge issue. I’ve covered it in multiple ways, acknowledging the extent of the misdeeds and expressing concerns about the implications. However, as the year went on, it became less about the conduct and more about the accusations.

We’re at a point where there seems to be new accusations of sexual misdeeds every other week. We’re almost used to it and that’s a dangerous thing because accusations aren’t the same as actual facts. While it’s not inherently wrong to believe someone when they say they’ve been a victim of sexual misconduct, that belief shouldn’t be blind.

Blind belief isn’t just unhealthy. It’s the primary ingredient in creating dangerous cults. We should continue taking sexual misconduct seriously in 2018 and beyond, but we can’t just keep focusing on the accusations. We need to be more eager to verify the validity of those accusations, making sure they have some basis in reality before someone’s life is irreparably ruined.

I know this resolution will be controversial. There’s a growing sentiment that not believing an accuser somehow counts as victim blaming. It’s not easy resisting that sentiment because most people inherently sympathize with victims, but sympathy is only meaningful when there’s some measure of validity to the accusations.

Resolution #5: Try To Love And Not Just Tolerate

This is more an approach, rather than a resolution. I won’t say it should be at the top of anyone’s list, but it should be in the back of everyone’s mind in 2018. Again, I know it seems like more hippie talk, but there is some greater purpose behind it.

For years now, tolerance has been a major goal. For the most part, we’ve succeeded in that goal. People today are far more tolerant of other races, religions, ethnicity, and sexual minorities than they’ve ever been before. That’s an objectively good thing. We should continue that effort as much as possible in 2018.

However, tolerance has become kind of a low bar in recent years. It’s one thing to tolerate a minority, but it’s quite another to actually embrace and love them. That’s something we haven’t put a lot of energy into in our efforts to create a more peaceful society.

Given all the outrage and polarization that emerged in 2017, I think 2018 is a good time to start making that extra effort. We can’t just be satisfied with tolerance. It’s like the humanitarian equivalent of a C-minus. We need to start shooting for B’s and A’s in 2018.

That means making an effort to love someone, even when there are things about them we find distressing. It goes back to my comments about having faith in people. Sometimes, we have to put some extra effort into believing people are better than we think they are. Making that effort in 2018 will go a long way towards helping people be better for the new year and beyond.

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Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses

Social Context Versus “Toxic” Behaviors: Why The Difference Matters (A Lot)

There’s a fairly well-known set of experiments involving rats and cocaine. It’s a strange, yet revealing combination. In the initial experiment, a rat in a cage was given the choice between cocaine and food. Not surprisingly, especially for someone who has ever tried cocaine, the rat chose cocaine to the point of killing itself.

That experiment, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, helped establish the idea that those who use cocaine would be so damaged, so addicted, and so utterly gone that they would rather take the drug than survive. It was pretty scary stuff and it helped inspire harsher anti-drug policies in the 1980s.

However, that experiment came into question in 1981 when a professor named Bruce Alexander re-did the experiment, but with one critical change. He didn’t isolate the rats in a cage. He put them in a colorful, positive environment with other rats that came to be known as “rat park.” The results weren’t nearly as scary.

As it turns out, when placed in a better environment with more social support, the rats didn’t become irreversibly damaged cocaine addicts. In fact, even when offered much more addictive drugs like morphine, the rats didn’t imbibe in illicit, drug-fueled bliss nearly as much as their caged counterparts.

I bring up this experiment because it illustrates an important point about behavior and social creatures. Context and social setting matters. It matters a lot. Put someone in a cage, strip them of any social support, and isolate them from the world and they’re bound to endure some pretty toxic effects. That’s a big reason why solitary confinement is considered torture.

That brings me back to the inherently flawed idea of “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve gone on record as saying should be buried in the deepest, darkest pit of our collective lexicon. I don’t want to re-hash or belabor any of the points I’ve already made about toxic masculinity. I’ll just note that some of the rhetoric surrounding it is distressingly similar to what anti-drug zealots used when demonizing cocaine.

Think, for a moment, about some of the negative traits associated with toxic masculinity. They include, but aren’t restricted to, stuff like:

  • Suppression of emotions
  • Being prone to violence
  • Increases in aggression
  • Associations with abhorrent sexual behavior

Then, look at the traits associated with cocaine addiction and note some of the parallels. In each case, there’s a direct association between these traits and a tangible, unambiguous cause. In one case, it’s a drug. In the other, it’s just being a man and associating with masculinity. Like the rats in that first experiment, though, there’s no context or social circumstances to consider.

That begs an intriguing, but important question, especially to those who still want to use “toxic masculinity” as a catch-all for certain behaviors. Is it really the nature of masculinity itself that’s behind these toxic behaviors or is it the social circumstances within the society?

That’s not a question anyone, especially not aspiring erotica/romance writers, can definitively answer. I don’t doubt it has been asked in other ways. It might even have been studied to some extent, but since it involves the complex machinations of the human psyche, definitive answers are hard to come by.

Even without the results of those studies, is it really that hard to contemplate the possibility that circumstances may effect how masculinity and femininity manifest? The rat park experiments alone hint at a fairly significant impact. Given the orders of magnitude in difference between rat and human brains, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that impact is substantial.

While we can’t run the kinds of experiments that Bruce Alexander did in 1981, we can assess the current status of masculinity within our culture. It may vary from region to region, but in terms of modern western culture, there are a number of traits that we’ve come to associate with masculinity.

It tends to manifest most distinctly in our standard models of romance, which puts men in situations where they have to be competitive, aggressive, cunning, and determined to get the kind of emotional and sexual satisfaction they want. Even when they do, those same situations make them just as inclined to seek other outlets of satisfaction.

Furthermore, men have to navigate these situations with the added baggage of being biologically wired to seek social, romantic, and sexual connections. Women have this wiring too, but the circumstances for them are different in that the culture has different expectations. Moreover, there’s no concept of “toxic femininity” to color their feminine traits as inherently negative.

What this means is the men are entering these circumstances pre-programmed to be very horny, very lonely, and in need of various forms of fulfillment. Being men, they’re expected to go out and get it while women are expected to just let it come to them. Now, I get that this is a gross oversimplification that obscures the overall gender dynamics, but in terms of the overall culture, these are the circumstances.

To illustrate the inherent issues with those circumstance, here’s a scenario that should help paint a picture of the male predicament. Again, it’s a gross oversimplification that I’m sure will offend more than a few people, but still reflects an important point.

Man: Hello, ma’am. I’m lonely and horny. How do I go about getting sex, love, and social support?

Woman: First of all, the fact that you just admitted you’re horny is disgusting. Women being horny, that’s beautiful and erotic. Men being horny is not, so you’re already a pig in my mind.

Man: What? Why? That’s not fair.

Woman: Don’t interrupt me! Talking down to a woman is rude and sexist. It’s basically the first step towards harassment and abuse. Raising your voice to a woman, showing any kind of dominance, is just perpetuating an oppressive gender stereotype that has no place in the current year.

Man: Okay. I’m sorry about that. So how do I go about it then?

Woman: You’re still talking over me. You’re getting dangerously close to harassing me and since you’re a man, everyone will believe me if I accuse you. So choose your words very carefully because if any woman feels upset by what you say or do, even if it’s unintentional, we can accuse you of being an abuser and ruin your life.

Man: Well, I’d like to avoid that at all costs.

Woman: Then, you’ll have to play by our rules. You’ll have to respect every choice a woman makes and take her side in every argument. Disagree with us or go against us and we’ll label you a sexist, misogynist pig. Then, you’ll never find love, sex, or any kind of social support.

Man: Wow. That almost sounds risky. I might just be better off watching porn and masturbating by myself.

Woman: Now, you’re just making it worse. For one, watching porn or admiring female bodies in any capacity is insulting, demeaning, and objectifying.

Man: But I’m attracted to beautiful women. Is that bad?

Woman: It’s awful! You’re contributing to unhealthy beauty standards that not every woman can hope to achieve. You’re part of a much larger problem in society that forces women to meet obligations that are difficult, inconvenient, or outright impossible. That makes you an accomplice to all the crimes ever committed against women.

Man: But I’ve never attacked, hurt, or insulted a woman in my entire life.

Woman: That doesn’t matter. Since men have gotten away with too many crimes in the past, you have to be the one to pay the price in the present. That means you have to carry the guilt of men you’ve never met for crimes and attitudes you had no part in creating. If you go against this in any way, then you’re an even bigger sexist misogynist.

Man: I don’t want that. I don’t want that at all. I guess I’ll have to find some other way to masturbate.

Woman: You’re still making it worse. You see, women can masturbate because it’s sexy and erotic. Men can’t. It’s just disgusting for reasons that neither of us can change. If any women finds out you’ve ever masturbated or paid for sex in any capacity, then they’ll think you’re a creep and a loser. They won’t even look at you, let alone want to be with you.

Man: But that’s not fair! I can’t turn off my desires.

Woman: That’s too bad. You’ll just have to suppress them while you jump through all the elaborate hoops a woman demands in the meantime. Just remember that even if you jump through all those hoops and do everything they ask, they still reserve the right to not have sex with you or love you in the way you want. That’s their choice and you can’t do anything about it.

Man: So what am I supposed to do? This is making me kind of frustrated and angry.

Woman: That’s not my problem. You either play by these arbitrary rules or we cut you off socially, sexually, and romantically. Try to change any of these rules and that just makes you the biggest misogynist of them all.

I’ll stop there and give everyone a moment to fume. Take all the time you need. It’s not the first time I’ve crafted a scenario with some pretty distressing monologues.

If you can get past the outrage, then try and take a moment to reflect on the circumstances in the scenario. Men are in a situation where the path to the kind of sexual, emotional, and social fulfillment that all social species seek is full of potential pitfalls.

Since those obstacles have gotten a lot more treacherous lately, it’s even harder for men to actively seek the very things that make them healthy and fulfilled. It’s akin to forcing the rats from the cocaine experiment back in the cage and demanding that they not succumb to the detrimental effects.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that women didn’t create these circumstances. There’s no feminist conspiracy any more than there’s a nefarious patriarchal conspiracy. In fact, some of these circumstances stem from traditions men have promoted, like the whole obsession with female purity and the concept of slut-shaming. Men have done more than their part to create and exacerbate these circumstances.

As it stands, though, the circumstances for men are such that frustration, anger, and isolation are almost inescapable. Unless you’re very rich and very well-connected, you’ve got a lot of hazards to navigate. Slip up and you’ll be labeled a creep, a misogynist, or worse. Even if that doesn’t put you in a literal cage, it’ll make you feel like you’re in one. At that point, is it really that surprising when a person’s behavior comes off as toxic?

With these circumstances in mind, the concept of “toxic masculinity” becomes even more asinine because it utterly ignores this context. Absent that context, it can only ever damage whatever harmony men and women have. Given how sensitive we’ve become to scandals and sexism, we can’t afford to do much more damage and expect either gender to come out better.


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

Making Sense Of Sexual Misconduct, Valid Arguments, And Matt Damon

We like to think that when there’s a serious problem, our first instinct is to approach it with a logical, reasoned understanding of what it is and how to go about solving it. Ideally, that’s how competent, civil societies go about these things. By those same ideals, though, nobody ever cheats on their taxes, lies on their resume, or downloads free movies from torrent sites.

In the real world, there are some problems where our emotions surrounding an issue are so powerful, so intense that they undercut our ability to approach it logically. It’s part of the flawed wiring in our caveman brains that seems to crop up in every major issue I discuss on this blog.

That brings me back to one of the most emotionally charged issues of the day in sexual assault. It’s an issue that has touched everything from movies to video games to the comic book industry that I’m so fond of. Between the scandals and the movements they inspire, it’s one of the most heated issues that doesn’t involve Star Wars fan theories.

It’s because the emotions surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment are so heated right now that trying to force any level of logic or context into the discussion is next to impossible. If done poorly, it can come off as victim blaming, which is tends to intensify emotions even more.

This brings me to Matt Damon, an actor who has built much of his career about having to be rescued. Unfortunately, he didn’t get that memo about the current emotional state of this issue. It’s still very raw and very charged. There’s a reason for that, but that reason is secondary right now and he just found that out the hard way.

It happened during a recent interview for ABC’s “Popcorn with Peter Travers.” During the interview, Mr. Damon decided to give his opinion on the issue, as many other celebrities have on the issue. This is what he had to say.

“I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories and it’s totally necessary,” he said. “I do believe there’s a spectrum of behavior. … You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”

The bold parts are my doing. That’s because these are the parts stirring even more emotion within an already heated discussion that shows no signs of settling. Harvey Weinstein triggered it and subsequent celebrity scandals escalated it. Matt Damon may have escalated it even more by trying to put a kind of logic into a discussion that isn’t ready for it.

On paper, what Mr. Damon said isn’t unreasonable. In fact, it’s fairly logical by most standards. There is, indeed, a spectrum of behavior for sexual misconduct, just as there’s a spectrum for behavior of any kind of deviance.

In the same way that stealing a bag of candy from a grocery store isn’t the same as stealing the Mona Lisa, an unwanted hug at an office Christmas party is not the same as a brutal rape in a dark alley. There is a spectrum for that kind of behavior. One warrants serious punishment and prosecution. The other warrants disapproval and scorn, but not much else.

However, that kind of approach is just too logical for something that’s so emotionally charged. I know I keep saying that, but it’s worth belaboring and it really does matter. Sexual assault is an extremely emotional topic, one that incurs an immense amount of trauma and suffering to the victims. To them, logic and spectrums mean as much as the weather on Neptune.

As a result, the reactions to Mr. Damon’s words have been more than a little charged. The most vocal reaction came from Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver. This is what they had to say on the matter.

Now, I don’t doubt their sincerity. These are two women who have been in the entertainment industry long enough to know more than a few dirty secrets. There’s plenty of emotion and disdain in their words. They go out of their way to focus on the bigger picture that’s fueling the outrage, emphasizing past injustices and systemic problems that pre-dated them, Matt Damon, and most people alive today.

In terms of the emotions surrounding the ongoing discussion, their words struck all the right chords. They focused on the pain and suffering that sexual assault has done to women like them and many other before them. They also emphasize how these injustices went overlooked and unpunished.

That’s where they have Mr. Damon beat because, like I’ve noted before, we have this inherent sense of justice hardwired into us from birth. Injustice rightly makes us upset, uncomfortable, and outraged. However, it’s that same reaction that can also blind us to the logic behind the injustice.

There’s nothing that Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano said that disproves or undercuts Mr. Damon’s points. They don’t even try to argue that everything, from a hug to a rape, is equally egregious when judging sexual misconduct. They just point out that Mr. Damon is a terrible person and part of the problem they’re trying to fight. As such, there’s no reason for them to take his words seriously.

That may help them win the current argument, but it doesn’t necessarily make them right in the long run. I’ve said before that there’s a huge difference between winning an argument and being right. One matters in the long run. The other doesn’t. For an issue as serious as sexual misconduct, that’s a dangerous precedent.

Again, I get the reason why women like Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano react so strongly. It’s very personal for them. I doubt Mr. Damon has ever been a victim of the kind of misconduct they’ve endured. Therein lies the problem, though, if either side is serious about confronting the issue.

It’s so personal for some people. It’s a problem to be solved with logic and understanding for others. At the moment, those sides just can’t coexist. It doesn’t matter whether Matt Damon, a well-known celebrity, makes a valid point. It doesn’t even matter if that’s an important point to make in order to prevent this movement from enduring a backlash, which some have already expressed concerns about.

However, it has to matter. In order for us, men and women alike, to create a more just society that confronts sexual misconduct appropriately, both the high emotions and the logic has to matter. It’s the only way anyone can be motivated and informed enough to do something about it.

I’m not going to say that Mat Damon was wrong for saying what he said. I’m also not going to say that Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver were wrong for reacting the way they did, either. I’ll only say that overlooking logic and ignoring context never work out in the long run. At some point, reality catches up to us all. In the long run, reality wins every argument, regardless of our emotions.


Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in society