Tag Archives: men’s health

The Pathetic Life Of Alan Harper: A Prelude/Warning To Men?

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Sometimes, popular culture is uncanny at predicting the future. “Star Trek” famously predicted cell phones. “2001: A Space Odyssey” predicted tablet computers. Then, there’s “The Simpsons,” which has predicted so many things that it’s creepy. Some predictions, however, fly under the radar. Some aren’t even predictions as much as they are worst case scenarios.

One such scenario played out in “Two and a Half Men,” a show more famous for its off-screen drama than its on-screen antics. Granted, those antics were fairly crude. Most episodes revolved around dirty jokes, sexual innuendo, and glorified hedonism. In today’s social climate, this show would trigger mass protests with every episode.

That didn’t stop it from being funny. I consider myself a fan of the show. However, this is one of those shows that could never be made today, even with an emotionally-stable Charlie Sheen. Its brand of comedy just wouldn’t work in an era where sexy Halloween costumes are considered controversial.

However, the message “Two and a Half Men” conveyed goes beyond its brand of humor and the actors who made it controversial. It’s a message that probably wasn’t intended when the show first aired, but one that manifested with time. That message centers around the only male character to make it through every season alive and unaltered, Alan Harper.

As a character, Alan is the catalyst for the whole show. It begins with him getting kicked out of his house by his wife, forcing him to live with his brother, Charlie. It serves as the foundation for the antics that follow. However, in light of recent trends in feminism, Alan Harper has become more of a concept than a character.

Simply put, Alan Harper is the perfect embodiment of a defeated, emasculated man. He’s a step below the stereotypical beta male. He’s the masculine equivalent of rock bottom. Even the entire cast of “The Big Bang Theory” or Al Bundy from “Married With Children” would feel sorry for him.

You don’t need to watch every episode of every season to see how this plays out. The show rarely goes more than a few minutes without highlighting how pathetic Alan is. The denigration goes beyond his ex-wife kicking him out of his house, divorcing him, and hitting him with egregious alimony payments.

Alan Harper, at his core, is a man dependent on everyone around him for affirmation, but is incapable or unwilling to earn it. His womanizing brother, Charlie Harper, often describes him as a parasitic leech who feeds on the pity of others to survive. In terms if how he conducts himself throughout the show, that’s pretty accurate.

Everything Alan does, from trying to make a living to pursuing romance, is done from a position of dependence. He depends on his brother for a place to live. He depends on his ex-wife to see his son, Jake. He depends on all the women he encounters for love, sex, and affection. He never has any leverage, always working from a position of weakness.

This earns him sympathy, but he’s no lovable loser. In addition to being dependent and weak, he’s also neurotic, selfish, and lazy. He rarely puts much effort into improving his lot in life. He never stands up for himself, rarely accepts responsibility for his mistakes, and endures failure without ever learning from it.

This is especially true in the later seasons of the show after Charlie Sheen was fired. Instead of having to leech off his brother, Alan managed to leech off a total stranger in Walden Schmidt. He makes every possible excuse to keep living in his brother’s house, never pay for anything, and avoid any semblance of personal growth.

Even if you pity Alan Harper, there’s little reason to respect him. Whenever he has a chance to make choices that can change that, he either makes the wrong decision or avoids it entirely. He’s not just a perpetual victim of a vindictive ex-wife, a hedonistic brother, and an idiot son. He actually clings to his victimhood, as though it were part of his identity.

It was fodder for comedy when “Two and a Half Men” was still on the air. Now, it’s a serious issue that affects men and women alike. That’s because leveraging victimhood has become less a comedy trope and more an ideological tactic.

The current discourse, especially when it comes to gender, is often built around who victimizes who. A big part of the anti-harassment movement is driven by the idea that women have been victims for years, suffering in silence under the thumb of misogynistic men. There are more than a few situations like that in “Two and a Half Men.”

Men are just as guilty of using that tactic too, albeit not to the extent of Alan Harper. Men have cited the lack of attention people give Terry Crews or Corey Feldman whenever they talk about issues like sexual abuse. They’ll point out the ways in which women get preferential treatment in our society, some of which actually plays out in “Two and a Half Men.”

There’s no question that harassment and inequality are problems, but just being a victim can’t be the end of the conversation. Alan Harper is, in essence, the personification of what happens when we don’t attempt to further that conversation. It impacts everybody, but it’s especially relevant for men.

Alan reflects a worst-case-scenario. In the overall gender dynamic, he draws every bad card and makes every wrong move. He marries a woman who hates him and exerts immense control over his life. He has a callous, egocentric mother who gives him no affection, guidance, or support. The entire world takes advantage of him and he does nothing to stop it.

To make matters worse, there’s very little Alan can do to stop it. Even if he stands up for himself, he has no support because he’s so dependent on other people. If he gets kicked out of the house, he has nowhere to go. If he makes any money, someone else ends up getting it, often his ex-wife or an ex-girlfriend. He’s not just pathetic in how he handles it. He’s utterly trapped.

This is the kind of nightmare scenario that men genuinely worry about. Many women may laugh it off, but men aren’t blind to the bigger picture. If Alan Harper were gay or transsexual, then he would have organizations that support him. There are many groups that work hard to help disadvantaged members in the LGBT community.

There are also plenty of organizations that help women as well. If Alan were a woman who had been kicked out of his house by a vindictive husband, then there’s no way that the comedy in “Two and a Half Men” would’ve worked. It’s not funny to see a poor woman get thrown out on the streets and denied custody of her child. When it happens to a man like Alan, though, it’s hilarious.

That’s where the humor in “Two and a Half Men” becomes distressingly serious. A character like Alan Harper lends himself to ridicule, but his situation is no laughing matter. He’s the pinnacle of a defeated man. Society does nothing to help him and everything to mock him. If he weren’t a man, it would be a tragedy. Instead, it’s a comedy.

For men, that’s a scary thought. On top of that, his situation can manifest in the real world, minus the laugh track. It is possible for a man to lose his home, his kid, and his money thanks to a vindictive wife. It is possible for a man to be so utterly helpless that he has to depend on everyone’s pity to survive.

The fact that it’s possible, but still funny in the context of a sitcom, gives men more pause today than it did when “Two and a Half Men” was still on the air. Men’s lives are being ruined by a society that does not give them the benefit of the doubt. Any debate that tries to take the side of men tends to get labeled as misogynistic.

We can either take those concerns seriously or create a society where men may end up like Alan Harper, laughably pathetic and utterly destitute. “Two and a Half Men” was still a funny show. However, the core of its comedy has serious implications and that are worth taking seriously, now more than ever.

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

Al Bundy, Circumcision, And Double Standards In Humor

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When you want to know how taboo a topic is, it helps to look at how sensitive people are to jokes about it. Most people can comfortably joke about teenagers, old people, the President, the French, and the Pope. Some of those jokes even make it into popular cartoons and sitcoms that we still laugh at to this day.

Then, there are topics for which making jokes is a gamble. Make the wrong remark at the wrong time and it could really cost you. Just ask Gilbert Gottfried or Roseanne Barr. The stakes get even higher when you joke about religion. Some have a better sense of humor than others, but those that don’t tend to make the news for all the wrong reasons.

Since humor and religion rarely mix, I want to focus on a topic that’s slightly less sensitive in circumcision. I say slightly because gender-specific humor is a lot trickier these days. Old jokes about women drivers and gay men just don’t work anymore and not because more cars are driving themselves.

Between trends in feminism and outrage over Wonder Woman’s armpit hair, the current state of gender politics is no laughing matter. I’ve talked about gender conflicts on many occasions and I’ve also discussed serious issues surrounding circumcision. I’m also aware that the current issues surrounding circumcision aren’t on many peoples’ radar, but I still think it’s worth talking about.

This isn’t just about representation in media or offensive stereotypes. This is about purposefully mutilating parts of the human body. When it happens to women, it’s a major problem that warrants major resources to combat. When it happens to men, though, it’s no big deal and prone to plenty of humor.

It’s more than just a double standard. It reveals a lot about our overall attitudes when we’re willing to joke about something. It shows how much the issue matters and how much energy we’re willing to put in to confront it. To understand the state of circumcision for men, you need look no further than an old episode of “Married With Children.”

I’ve mentioned this classic Fox sitcom before. I put it at the top of my list of TV shows that could never be made today. The fat jokes alone would get it cancelled. It’s a show that went out of its way to be controversial, much to the chagrin of a Michigan house wife. That included an episode about circumcision.

This particular episode was called “A Little Off The Top” and if you know anything about male circumcision, you understand why that’s an overly appropriate title. It starts with Al Bundy getting injured in a basketball game, going to a hospital, and getting circumcised due to a medical error.

It’s all portrayed with typical “Married With Children” hilarity. In fact, one of the most memorable moments of the episode is when Peggy gets a call from the hospital and Marcy, the Bundy family’s neighbor and one of Al’s many enemies, laughs hysterically. I’m not going to lie. When I saw a recent rerun of the episode, I laughed too.

That’s the genius of “Married With Children.” It can take depressing situations like a loveless marriage, a lousy job, and idiot kids and make it funny. It’s part of why this show is one of my favorite shows of all time. When you strip away the humor in this episode, though, there are some disturbing overtones.

To illustrate, here’s a quick thought experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that this isn’t happening in a TV show and you just randomly stumbled across a news article.

“Local Chicago man rushed to a hospital after injury playing basketball is mistakenly circumcised. Family and neighbors make fun of him.”

Take away the iconic Bundy family and the context of a sitcom. Just look at it in terms of raw facts. A man gets an injury, goes to the hospital, has his genitals mutilated against his will due to an error, and is laughed at because of it. The fact that it happens to Al Bundy makes it funny. If it happened to anyone in the real world, it’s not likely to be as funny.

Medical errors are already horrifying enough. This one is extra disturbing for men because it involves our genitals. There’s already a growing reservation about circumcising baby boys for no medical reason who cannot consent, which did not exist when “Married With Children” was on the air. On top of that, there’s a distinct double standard in play.

Even in the lewd world of a 90s Fox sitcom, there are lines that even the Bundy family cannot cross. If you were to reverse the genders in this episode, as I’ve put forth as part of previous thought experiments, then the humor just doesn’t work. If the episode involved a woman who’d been circumcised against her will by accident, then it wouldn’t be funny. It would be disturbing.

The reasons for that aren’t entirely simple. There is a medical and logistical difference between male and female circumcision. For the most part, female circumcision in its various forms are prone to more complications, even in a medical setting. Male and female anatomy are different. There’s no getting around that.

However, the logistics are the same. They both involve cutting, altering, or outright mutilating someone’s genitals against their will. Despite these similarities, one is still capable of being funny while the other is not.

That idea matters because when something can be funny, it impacts how seriously we take it as a society. We can joke about ditzy blonde women, bone-headed men, and irresponsible teenagers because they’re not seen as dire issues. That’s also the reason why we can make jokes about the Vatican in 2018 that probably would’ve gotten people killed half-a-century ago.

The fact that male circumcision can be a joke or the premise of a sitcom says that it’s not serious enough to be on the same level as female genital mutilation. They may not be the same thing, but the implications are still there. When a woman is mutilated, it’s a travesty. When a man is mutilated, it’s comedy. That is not a trivial gap.

I doubt “Married With Children” was trying to make a statement about male circumcision when the episode first aired. The show made a lot of controversial jokes and circumcision barely cracks the top ten. Even if that episode aired today, it probably wouldn’t be that controversial, which says a lot about how little our attitudes about male circumcision have changed since the mid-90s.

In that same time, though, efforts to combat female genital mutilation have gained ground. Efforts to beautify and protect the female body are part of a larger social trend. However, those efforts are not equally prescribed to men, even when the concept is the same.

Now, I’m in no ways in favor of making jokes about male circumcision taboo. Historically speaking, making anything taboo only tends to make an issue worse. I’m also not advocating that we start joking about female genital mutilation, either. My point in citing a memorable episode from a raunchy 90s sitcom is to show the vast disparity in the circumcision debate.

When something is a joke for one group of people, but an atrocity for another, then there’s a major disconnect in the issue. Both sides can and should be discussed seriously. Both can and should be held to similar standards are humor, as well. When you start making exceptions for one over the other, then that obscures the debate for both.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Robocop

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Even in an era where masculinity has gained way too many negative connotations, there’s plenty of room for men who distinguish themselves in respectable, honorable ways. There are countless male characters in popular culture who attempt to set themselves apart. Sometimes, it brings out the worst in men. Sometimes, it brings out the best.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on the best aspects of masculinity. To date, I’ve profiled two characters, Joel from “The Last of Us” and Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” I’ve cited both characters as examples of noble masculinity. It manifests in different forms, but it helps bring a unique strength to their characters.

They have a wide range of traits, some of which aren’t distinctly masculine. When those manly characteristics do emerge, though, they don’t just reveal the greater subtleties in who they are. They demonstrate just how powerful masculinity can be when it’s channeled. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight another character who channels that kind of masculinity in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and full of memorable one-liners.

That character’s name is Alex J. Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, but most know him as Robocop. He’s not just a cop who got caught up in a greedy corporation’s agenda. He’s not just a man in a machine carrying out the duties of a cop. When you take in the entirety of Robocop’s story, including the Jesus connotations, you find a character whose masculinity shines even in the R-rated violence that is Detroit.

Now, before I go any further, I want to establish that the version of “Robocop” I’m citing here is the original 1987 version played by Peter Weller. This profile will not draw from the 2014 “Robocop” played by Joel Kinnaman. I’m not saying that version of the character is without merit. I enjoyed that movie. However, it did not come close to demonstrating the level of noble masculinity that the original conveyed.

On the surface, the original “Robocop” wasn’t that groundbreaking for its time. Stories about urban decay and dystopian cities were already popular thanks to movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of substance, though, “Robocop” achieved something profound in terms of crafting a memorable male character.

The core of Alex Murphy’s character, even before he became Robocop, is that he’s a good, honorable man in a city that doesn’t have many of them. This version of Detroit, which is sadly very similar to the real-world version, is full of deviant criminals and corrupt business types. The very company that creates Robocop, Omni Consumer Products, is full of ruthless individuals who see crime only as a hindrance to profits.

A man like Alex Murphy is a precious rarity in that world. As such, it doesn’t take long for it to get snuffed out. On Murphy’s first day on the job, he’s callously killed by a gang of sociopath criminals led by Clarence Boddicker. All that innate nobility and idealism Murphy had was literally shot to death within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

However, that was not the end of Alex Murphy’s story. It was only the beginning. When he’s turned into Robocop by OCP, who see him only as a means to further their business plan, the extent of the noble masculinity he portrays only grows. The fact it does so while he cleans up Detroit’s rampant crime is a nice bonus as well.

From the moment he awakens as Robocop, we see what looks to be only a shell of a man. In fact, OCP goes out of their way to remove as much of the man as possible, not bothering to salvage his hand or anything below the neck. The only part of Alex Murphy they keep is his brain and part of his face.

It’s a total deconstruction of a man, ripping away the very flesh that makes him masculine and yes, that includes his genitals. To OCP, he’s a machine who just happens to run on human parts. They try to filter out the humanity in hopes of creating an obedient commodity that they can then mass produce, market, and utilize for profit.

It’s dehumanization to an extreme, more so than what characters like Wolverine endured. For a brief while, it looks like OCP succeeds. Initially, Robocop carries himself like a machine, confronting Detroit’s worst criminals with an efficiency that wasn’t possible as Alex Murphy. He could’ve become a perfect example of reducing all men to machines, devoid of emotion and focused only on a task at hand.

Then, the story takes a more human turn and Robocop suddenly becomes more man than machine. Despite everything OCP took from him, including his body and his free will, Alex Murphy still emerged. Even after everything that made him a man was deconstructed, literally in some cases, he fought to regain control.

In the process, we get to see Robocop learn about the man he used to be. We see glimpses of his life as a father and a husband. We find out just how good a man he was to his wife and his son. It contrasts heavily to the ruthless criminals and callous business people that affect much of the story. That’s critical in terms of establishing Robocop as someone who conveys a heroic brand of masculinity.

From the outside perspective of the audience, Alex Murphy’s home life seems mundane and even a little corny. However, when put into the context of a crime-ridden urban dystopia, it becomes instrumental in elevating Robocop’s sense of duty. They make his prime directives more than just base programming. By adding Murphy’s humanity into the mix, they gain greater meaning.

It’s an inherently masculine trait, protecting those who cannot otherwise protect themselves. Murphy already embodied that trait because he was a cop and a family man. However, he could only accomplish so much on his own, as his fatal encounter with Boddicker proved.

By becoming Robocop, that role is elevated because technically speaking, he’s better equipped than any man has ever been. He’s got a human mind, but he has a robot body, complete with bullet-proof skin and the ability to shoot with inhuman accuracy. Instead of stripping him of his masculinity and his humanity, becoming a robot actually enhanced it.

That, more than anything, is what elevates Robocop’s noble masculinity to another level. An act that should’ve utterly dehumanized him ended up making his humanity even stronger. It had to be in order to overcome OCP’s control and uncover the plot to exploit him as just another product. The fact that OCP tries and fails in the sequel to recreate him further reinforces just how unique Robocop is.

Through that journey from utter masculine deconstruction to total reaffirmation of his identity, the line between Robocop and Alex Murphy blurs. The line between carrying out noble acts and following basic programming blurs as well. In the end, Robocop isn’t just a machine following a program. He’s a man inside a machine, doing the same job he did as a man, but with much better weapons and more memorable catch phrases.

Robocop” is hailed as a classic for many reasons. Robocop, as a character, continues to be an icon, despite sub-par sequels and a failed reboot. I think a big part of that appeal comes directly from how the first movie managed to portray the best traits of masculinity within a setting where the worst often thrived.

Even in a contemporary context, beyond the current state of Detroit, Robocop conveys a powerful message that men and women alike can appreciate. You can put a good man in the worst situation, destroying and deconstructing him at every level. That same man will find a way to re-emerge and do what needs to be done.

It’s a testament to the strength of manhood and our willingness to protect innocents in an unjust world. Robocop combines the spirit of a man with the power of a machine. One need not subvert the other. In fact, one can supplement the other and, dead or alive, the criminal element of any gender doesn’t stand a chance.

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Masculinity, Mourning, And My Recent Loss

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How is a man supposed to mourn when he’s lost someone he really cares about? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking because it’s a question I wish I could answer. It’s also a question that I’ve been struggling with over the past week or so.

Recently, I got the sad news from my father that my grandmother had passed away. I’ve been debating on whether or not I should talk about it on this site. I know people don’t come here to hear about my personal crap. They would much rather talk about upcoming superhero movies, sex robots, and double standards.

However, I’ve since concluded that this is something I need to share, if only to help me cope. Without getting too much into the personal details, this loss really hurt. I was very close to my grandmother. She was a big part of my life for as long as I can remember and just referring to her in the past tense is a strange and distressing feeling, but one I knew I would have to face eventually.

I even knew it was coming sooner rather than later. My grandmother’s death did not catch anyone by surprise. She was in her late 90s and had been dealing with a lot of health problems over the past four years. The past several months have been especially bad, but I still visited her regularly, hoping to boost her spirits.

Now, the idea that I can’t visit her ever again is really hard to process. My grandmother was one of those special individuals whose presence just made everything inherently better. Even with her declining health, she never lost that amazing spirit. She lit up the room and she enriched my life in ways I can never put into words.

Mourning her has proven to be one of the biggest challenges of my adult life. I understand that this is the natural order of things. I know that loved ones eventually die, especially those who lived long, fruitful lives like my grandmother. That doesn’t make it any less painful.

In dealing with it, though, I find myself contemplating things about mourning that I didn’t expect. Some of it involves my own personal issues. Others involve a bigger issue that I feel is worth exploring, even as my current emotional state is so raw.

There are a lot of things I didn’t learn from school, parents, siblings, or peers that I wish I had while growing up. Chief among those things is coping with loss. It’s not that nobody tried to teach me those skills. It’s not like there was a course in it, either. I just never made much effort to learn them. In fact, I feel as though I avoided them outright.

Some of that might just be a result of me being more reserved. Most people who know me can attest that I tend to swallow certain feelings more than others, especially when those feelings come from real emotional anguish. I’ll sob, I’ll shed tears, and I’ll let my voice crack under the strain. I’ll try not to let it go beyond that, though.

It’s not something my family and friends pressure me to do. However, there are times I feel as though that’s what a man is supposed to do. While I don’t like attributing things to gender stereotypes, especially when double standards are involved, this is one instance where I fall right into a specific masculine archetype.

I freely admit that I don’t always express my emotions very well. I’m more inclined to hide them and hold them in. I even try to avoid them, hoping they just go away with time. That may work for some minor emotional upheavals. It doesn’t work quite as well when you’re dealing with a heavy personal loss.

That limited ability to express emotions very well has been really glaring since I got the news. I remember not reacting too strongly, but wishing I could. I remember being at a total loss, but wishing I weren’t. There were so many things I wanted to express and articulate, but couldn’t. I can honestly say that I’ve never been at such a loss before.

At that moment, being a man felt like being shackled to something. It was like trying to cross a river with heavy weights on my ankles. Even when sitting alone in my room with no one to judge me for how much emotion I showed, I still found myself at a loss. I knew I was feeling something hard, but I just didn’t know how to express it.

I’m not saying that inability is entirely attributed to me being a man. I can’t speak for all men, but I can attest on a personal level that I do feel pressure to put on a tough face when confronted with painful emotions. To do otherwise just seems contrary to what it means to be a man and maintain a masculine demeanor.

I know that sounds like I’m blaming my gender for my shortcomings, and maybe I am to some degree, but I find myself wishing that the processing of painful emotions didn’t carry these gender-based standards. Yes, there are some men who are every bit as emotionally expressive as most women, but those kinds of tendencies aren’t encouraged or celebrated. In some cases, they’re scorned.

I don’t blame women or women for that stigma. I get the sense we’re all responsible for propagating those standards, albeit indirectly. The idea that showing certain emotions isn’t manly while not showing enough isn’t womanly feels like an unnecessary burden that we place on ourselves, one I just learned is heavier than most.

While I don’t feel like men are mocked as much for showing their emotions as they were in the past, I still find myself struggling. It’s as though I had the opportunity learn how to deal with these painful feelings when I was growing up, but was pressured to not take advantage of them because doing so would reveal a personal weakness.

As misguided as that sentiment might have been, I’m still responsible for making those choices. I don’t deny that when it comes to knowing how to deal with losses on this level, I’m behind the curve. I’m very lucky that I have so many wonderful family, friends, and relatives who have been there for me every step of the way during this process. I don’t think I could’ve handled this as well as I have without them.

I just wish being a man didn’t make it inherently more difficult. Again, this is just my own experience and I can’t speak for all men. Maybe mine is an anomaly and my limited coping skills have more to do with my own personal issues than my gender. Whatever the case, this loss has revealed a lot about being a man and dealing with emotions.

I’m really going to miss my grandmother. I loved her a great deal and the idea of living life without her in it is still hard to wrap my head around. I intend to push forward, though. I know that’s what she would want. That’s what all our loved ones ultimately want once they’re gone.

Even if they can’t be in our lives anymore, we can still move forward with the strength their love gave us. To all those out there who have suffered a loss, I encourage you to take comfort in that strength. To my grandmother, who I’ll miss dearly, I thank you for showing me just how much strength there is in love.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

The WRONG Way To Deal With The Incel Phenomenon (And Ideas For A Better Way)

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When dealing with complex social issues, people have a frustrating tendency to propose solutions that cause more problems. Some of them are unintended and manageable. Some are just absurd and untenable.

I say that as someone who has stated before that complaining about a problem without pursuing a solution amounts to little more than empty whining. I’m in favor of confronting major issues, be they small-scale problems on a local level and bigger problems that may end up being an existential threat to the human race.

However, most reasonable people agree that attempting to solve a problem with a bad solution is akin to killing a fly with a machine gun. Even if it works, it causes plenty of damage and creates an entirely new set of problems that need solving.

This brings me to what I feel is the most asinine issue to emerge since religious zealots got needlessly outraged over the Teletubbies. I’m referring, sadly, to the incel phenomenon and believe me, it makes me miss the days when the Teletubbies were a problem.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’d really prefer to talk about less frustrating topics, but this is quickly evolving/devolving into an issue that isn’t going away on its own. People have started dying because of this phenomenon. Some depraved individuals are already being idolized because of it. This is not one of those things that will blow over after the next Kardashian scandal.

Before I go any further, I need to make clear that I do not think highly the incel phenomenon. It brings out the absolute worst in those who espouse it. I also do not associate incels with other movements involving men’s rights, gender equality, or any mainstream political ideology. These individuals are their own entity.

Their deplorable behavior and demeaning attitudes are solely on them. Their hatred, misogyny, and violent acts are not the least bit justified. I can only manage so much sympathy for those who identify as incel, given the recent news surrounding them. With all that being said, I’m going to try and be fair in addressing this problem.

As much as I abhor the ideology of self-identified incels, I don’t deny that they’re real human beings who are in a state of deep distress. I also don’t deny that their distress is painful to them. Others can call it pathetic all they want. To them, the pain is real.

This is a group of people who genuinely feel that they are the victims of a gross injustice. They see themselves as individuals who have followed all the rules that society has laid out for them. They believe themselves to be good, decent people who are worthy of sex, love, and intimacy. To them, the fact that they aren’t getting any of that is akin to denying a starving child food while donating meals to Bill Gates.

It certainly doesn’t help that popular culture has been selling us all the narrative for decades that being a nice person will get you the lover you want. Since kids, we’ve been led to believe that if we just follow the examples of our favorite photogenic heroes, we’ll get what we want. It always works out in the movies and on TV. Why shouldn’t it work out in real life?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of reality knows why that sentiment is dead wrong. We all have to learn at some point that we are not the heroes of our own story. Things don’t always work out. Life isn’t fair. Nobody owes you anything and the universe doesn’t give a wet fart about your feelings.

It’s a painful revelation, but for those in the incel movement, that pain is too much. It’s not that they haven’t gotten over it. It’s that they’ve given up. They call it “taking the black pill” instead of the red pill. Rather than the truth offered by “The Matrix,” the black pill is akin to just waving the white flag and conceding the battle to the machines.

In this case, though, the machines are the social conditions that ensure incels will never have sex, find love, or feel intimacy. Like sexual and romantic nihilists, they stop trying to navigate a world that they believe is actively working against them. They don’t try to change it or help it. They’re just left wallowing in their hatred and misery.

To some, it’s self-deprecating melodrama. I think it’s tragic. I even understand to some extent how certain people might look at the challenges before them, see how many forces are working against them, and not even try because the odds are so stacked against them. Whether or not that’s actually true doesn’t matter. This is their mentality and it’s a very damaging mentality.

It’s for that reason that the potential “solutions” some have set forth seem intent on either furthering that damage or exchanging one problem for another. One emerging “solution” comes in the form of something called enforced monogamy. It’s not quite what it sounds, but it still lends itself to a great many problems.

The logic, on paper, makes some sense. It posits that in a sexually free market, most of the women will only pursue the top tier of men. It works if you have the looks of Brad Pitt or the bank account of Warren Buffet, but for most everyone else, they’re left behind. As such, monogamy must be rigidly enforced and promiscuity significantly discouraged.

It could take many forms. People who have sex with one too many people could be taxed, fined, or jailed. People who refuse to marry someone could be required to do so. If someone doesn’t sufficiently perform they’re monogamous duties, then they’re subject to both condemnation and punishment. Whatever form it takes, the inherent flaws ensure this “solution” will only incur more problems.

Never mind the fact that human beings, as a species, may not be naturally monogamous. Never mind the fact that sexual monogamy is exceedingly rare throughout the animal kingdom. For the good of society and repressed incels, it has to be imposed and enforced. I’ll give everyone a minute to fume over that half-hearted effort at sarcasm.

In any case, this recourse requires that some segment of the population be oppressed to placate another. Historically speaking, that has never worked out. Sure, using the power of society to guide and/or micromanage sexuality might grant a little intimacy to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. It will also significantly undermine the freedom and liberty of another individual.

It doesn’t just exchange one problem for another. Whenever society tries to micromanage peoples’ lives, it tends to collapse and not just because it fails the Boredom Filter. Human beings are complex and difficult to manage. Trying to manage the unmanageable is destined to end in failure.

While it’s doubtful that forced monogamy will ever gain favor in any society outside “The Handmaid’s Tale,” other less oppressive solutions have been put forth, relatively speaking. They largely center around legalizing sex work or hastening the development of sex robots.

While I’ve spoken favorably about sex robots and advocated the decriminalization of prostitution, I don’t think either would resolve the incel issue. In fact, I think it would make the situation worse.

Even if we all woke up tomorrow and discovered that prostitution was legal and sex robots were perfected, the incel phenomenon would still exist because those who identify as such would still feel like failures. Even if they had plenty of satisfying sex with prostitutes and sex robots, the fact they had to resort to those means would only affirm their failure.

On top of that, those working in prostitution who served them would probably be subject to stigma of their own. That’s on top of the stigma already associated with sex work. There would be a similar stigma on the manufacturers of sex robots or sex dolls, which has already drawn ire from sex-negative feminists.

In the end, not only will incels still feel angry and resentful, but those associated with this “solution” would have a reason to feel that way too. Given the breadth of that problem and the inherent flaws of the proposed solutions, is there any recourse that is both effective and tenable? I believe there is, but it’s not one of those solutions that’s simple, direct, and requires the passage or removal of a particular law.

The incel phenomenon was born of chaotic social issues that were further compounded by mass media and popular culture. Before solutions like prostitution and sex robots can even enter the conversation, the stigma associated with sex, both for the incels and those involved in sex work, must be confronted.

The idea that anyone who has too much sex or not enough sex deserves stigma is the primary driving force behind controversies surrounding sexuality. Whether it comes from uptight religious zealots or radical feminists, heaping stigma on someone else’s sex life is both damaging and demeaning.

Beyond confronting the stigma, it’s also important to educate those who identify as incels that it’s not entirely hopeless. They can still find love, sex, and intimacy. Part of that process, though, involves learning that they are not owed sex and they have to actually work for someone else’s affection.

That could come in the form of helping people develop better social skills. It could also come in the form of identifying those in the incel community that have legitimate issues with mental health. At the end of the day, they’re still people. Helping them should be prioritized over resenting them.

Re-shaping attitudes and teaching better social skills will be a slow, arduous process. People do have a nasty tendency to cling to their hate. However, it is possible to help someone overcome it. I believe most incels can be helped and are deserving of it. Only those who commit acts of violence should face such scorn.

This is not the kind of effort that one particular gender must take on. It has to be a collective effort, which I know will upset some who feel incels are an exclusive manifestation of toxic masculinity, a term I still contend is inherently flawed. We’re all still human, regardless of our gender. If some of us our suffering, then we’re still the one’s responsible for confronting it.

We can’t expect the incel issue to resolve itself. We also can’t expect those who identify as such to change just because others scorn, mock, or hate them. At some point, one side has to take a deep breath, be the adult, and confront the issue in a meaningful way.

Chances are it’ll get worse before it gets better. It’s also likely that both incels and those who despise them will hate dealing with the issues associated with them. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to address. The longer a group of people remain at the mercy of stigma and self-loathing, the more suffering the world around them is likely to incur.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

When Regressive Gender Politics Inspire Deviant Sexual Taboos

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Take a moment to think about the many non-criminal, but still deviant behaviors that  society considers taboo. From not tipping the pizza guy to not asking for permission when you borrow your roommate’s toothbrush, there are plenty of behaviors that may not be illegal, but still make us recoil to some extent because they subvert social norms.

Now, consider for a moment that there was a point in time when these behaviors weren’t taboo. For some, you don’t have to go back too far. For others, you may need to go back a century or several, but the point is these taboos didn’t just arise randomly. There were factors that inspired it.

I’ve talked about the origins of taboos before, as well as ways to break them. When it comes to sexual taboos, though, it gets even more complicated, not to mention kinky. It’s one thing for an inane social norm to take on a life of its own. Add a powerful, instinctual drive to the mix and that taboo may gain a few extra lives in the process.

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Few things inspire more elaborate taboos than sex. Anyone familiar with a particular area’s porn consumption understands that to some extent. Sex is such an integral part of life, love, and passion that it’s bound to inspire more than a few taboos. We don’t usually think about where those taboos come from, but there’s usually a catalyst of sorts that inspires them.

I bring all this up because we live in sensitive times where it doesn’t take much to inspire a controversy, especially when it involves a sex scandal. It’s a world where everyone seems downright eager to get outraged about something, be it a sex scandal or something a celebrity wore.

Some of that outrage is built on a foundation of good intentions. Say what you will about the extent of the anti-harassment movement, but the goal is commendable. A world with less harassment, sexual or otherwise, is an objectively better world.

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However, problems arise when that movement becomes a moral panic and few things bring out our collective eccentricities than those. Just ask everyone still worried about Satanic cults operating day care centers. Those same panics can also inspire taboos. They can even turn something that wasn’t a taboo before into something far less mundane.

As I type this, there may be a new taboo forming before our eyes in wake of the anti-harassment movement. I’m not saying it’s official or anything, but the factors are in place and since it involves sex, it’s sure to evoke a wide range of feelings. To illustrate the extent of this emerging taboo, consider the following scenario.

There’s a woman in a room, casually lofting about. A man enters. He’s big, strong, and aggressive. He storms over to the woman, passion and desire in his eyes, and pins her up against the wall. Then, without asking, he kisses her and starts caressing her body. The woman is shocked and overwhelmed, but finds herself kissing back.

Then, after overpowering her with his strength and lust, he strips her naked and has sex with her right then and there. He doesn’t ask for permission. He just does it. He’s aggressive, but passionate. He’s not out to hurt her. He’s just there to take her. When he finishes, he wraps his powerful arms around her and holds her close so she cannot escape and kisses her again in a final act of domination.

This brief, but steamy scenario is a fairly familiar scene. It plays out in countless pornographic narratives, from the most hardcore content you can find on the internet to the erotica/romance novels that I like to write. It was even a big part of a best selling BDSM novel called “50 Shades Of Grey” that I’m sure everyone has heard of by now.

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In the recent past, that might have made a certain crowd a bit uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t have been taboo. Now, many would see this scenario as outright sexual assault and demand that the man be thrown in jail. It wouldn’t even matter if the woman in the scenario said she liked it. In the context of a moral panic, the man is an abuser.

I understand, to some extent, why certain people would feel that way. From an outside perspective, not knowing the thoughts and desires of those involved, it seems pretty distressing. In the past, such concerns would be addressed privately or by police. In the post-privacy world of social media, hash-tags, and professional trolls, it’s much easier for these sorts of matters to gain public scrutiny.

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I know there are still those who say the anti-harassment movement isn’t at the level of a moral panic just yet, but it doesn’t have to be at the same level of the Satanic Panic to inspire taboos. That scenario I described above may not have checked all the necessary boxes before, but it sure does now and that’s going to complicate certain sexual attitudes.

The idea that such a scenario could become taboo didn’t cross my mind until someone on Reddit brought it up. They cited an article from the New York Times where a woman expressed outright dread that she was betraying the anti-harassment movement because she’d enjoyed those kinds of dominating experiences in the past.

In the article, a sex and intimacy therapist and psychologist named Michaela Boehm says that woman’s feelings aren’t deviant. She even goes onto make a statement that probably wouldn’t have been controversial a decade ago, but would certainly spark outrage now.

Many women like to be dominated in bed. “Not in their lifestyle, not in their career, but in the bedroom, many women would like to surrender,” Dr. Boehm said. This may explain why, on Amazon’s list of best-selling erotica — a medium that, unlike pornography, is mostly produced and enjoyed by women — themes of male dominance tend to, well, dominate.

Chances are if a man had said those words, he would be scorned as a modern day monster. Even though a licensed psychologist says there’s nothing wrong or unhealthy about women enjoying those kinds of experiences, the sentiment is there. As such, the roots of the taboo are already in place.

Now, the reasons why a woman may enjoy submissive sexual experiences are many and there is some research behind it, but I won’t go too deep into that issue. I want to focus on what happens when taboo is thrown into the mix. Even if there were no biological factors behind the appeal of that kind of sex, a taboo does plenty to complicate things.

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Think back to that same scenario again. Now, add a few other forces to the mix. It’s not just erotic. It’s dangerous. The man could get into a lot of trouble if word got out and the woman could get into trouble if she admits she enjoys it. If you don’t think that doesn’t add appeal to an experience, then you’ll have a hard time explaining the appeal of skydiving.

Call it the forbidden fruit effect. Call it misattribution of arousal, a real phenomenon where your brain may not know the difference between being in danger and being horny. Whatever biological factors might be behind it, taboo only adds more fuel to the proverbial fire.

Suddenly, this simple manifestation of sex takes on a form of kink that it didn’t have before. Kink, much like skydiving, has appeal because there’s a thrill to it, both in terms of danger and the fact that it’s considered deviant. Add the basic pleasures that come with sex and suddenly, a mundane experience becomes a night with James Bond.

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I doubt that’s what those in the anti-harassment movement intended. It may very well be fine print in the law of proportional backlash that tends to affect major social movements. However, unintended consequences are often the pre-cursor to taboos and it may already be too late for this one.

Sexual attitudes are always evolving and at the moment, they’re evolving in a climate of fear and uncertainty. People are more vigilant with their sex lives and how they interact with women. That’s where practices like the Mike Pence rules comes in. There’s a risk that the way we publicly go about sex is making it difficult for anyone to know what’s acceptable anymore.

Conversely, taboos embrace the danger, the risk, and the utter abnormality of an act. They take something you didn’t once think was a big deal and make it seem like a trill ride at Disneyland. Given the ambiguity surrounding consent and inherent power of the human sex drive, this is one taboo that may be more potent than most.

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Now, that’s not to say that submissive sex is destined to exceed the Satanic Panic in terms of taboo, but the potential is there. History shows that efforts to re-shape attitudes is a messy process. Sometimes, it works beautifully. Sometimes, it fails spectacularly. There are many ways to combat a certain social ill, but making it taboo may end up doing more harm than good.

If you’re still not convinced, go to the nearest theme park and ride a few roller coasters. That should remind you of the kind of forces you’re working with here.

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The Time I Tried On A Banana Hammock (And Loved It)

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Brace yourself because I’m about to get personal. That’s right. I’m taking a break from talking about disturbing trends in sexual attitudes, major upheavals from technological advances, and sex robots to share a little something about myself that should offer some revealing insight into my sexy way of thinking.

Ideally, I’d like this personal anecdote to convey a larger meaning, of sorts. I’d like it to help reinforce some of the points I often make about double standards, sexual norms, and our overall sexual mentality. If it just ends up as me sharing another quirky story from my life, I’ll be okay with that too. Be forewarned, though. This is one of those stories that might be both funny and unflattering.

It’s not a very elaborate story, nor would I consider it a major turning point in my life. It’s not even the most personal story I’ve shared on this blog, especially compared to ones that involve awkward boners. In fact, the entirety of the story can be summed up in one simple sentence.

I tried on a banana hammock and loved it.

In case you don’t know what a banana hammock is, it’s basically the male version of a thong. I’m not talking about a speedo swimsuit that you might see at a beach in Rio. I’m talking about the kind of underwear that is basically a fancy napkin held in place by dental floss. If you need a more visual reference, this is what one looks like.

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Granted, most men don’t look that fit, but that’s not the point of the story or why I’m sharing it. I know banana hammocks are basically a novelty, one usually reserved for male strippers, underwear models, and body builders. They don’t have the same reverence that female thongs have and there’s a reason for that. However, it’s the extent of that reason that makes me want to share this story.

For context, here’s how it all played out. It takes place during my last few years in college, a time when I was finally recovering from the social anxieties I’d developed in high school and began emerging from my shell. During those years, I was lucky enough to have a couple of really great roommates with whom I didn’t mind sharing personal stuff.

One of those roommates, as it just so happens, loved banana hammocks. To him, they were just something he wore to fool around, but he still loved them. Me being the kind of guy who had worn boxers since middle school, I didn’t see the appeal. Then, one day, for reasons I can only attribute to boredom and curiosity, my roommate dared me to try one on.

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I’m not usually one to take people up on foolish dares that don’t involve pizza toppings, but I found myself seriously considering it. My roommate even sweetened the deal by letting me wear one that he hadn’t opened yet. It was still sealed in a plastic package, having never touched another man’s package, so to speak. It was one of those opportunities for which I couldn’t make many excuses.

Me being just as bored and/or curious, I decided to take my roommate up on his dare. I wouldn’t just keep my shirt on either. I would go into the bathroom, take everything off, and come out wearing only that banana hammock. Short of walking around naked, it was the most exposed I could’ve been. This being before I started sleeping naked regularly, it would be a unique experience.

With all that in mind, I went into the bathroom, got undressed, and put the banana hammock on. I admit, it was somewhat uncomfortable at first, but not in the way you might think. I just wasn’t used to my underwear cradling my man parts the way this thing did. After a moment, though, something amazing happened.

I found myself really liking how it looked on me. I found myself posing a bit in front of the mirror. Keep in mind, though, that this is a time in my life before I started exercising regularly. I wasn’t necessarily unhealthy since I walked everywhere in college, but I wasn’t as fit as I am now. Even so, wearing that banana hammock made me feel downright sexy.

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I can honestly say I had never felt that sexy before in my life and that includes the moments I’d spent with women. I felt like I could walk up to a woman with confidence and proudly declare that I am a sexy man who enjoys the company of sexy women. Sure, that might have gotten me some odd looks, but I wouldn’t have cared. I felt that good.

Needless to say, I walked out of that bathroom feeling a lot less self-conscious than I’d anticipated. Even my roommate seemed a little surprised. His reaction, however, was kind of predictable. He wasn’t shocked or anything. He just laughed, clapped, and said it looked good on me. I remember laughing too and cracking some dirty jokes. I still don’t think it conveyed the impact of the moment.

At the time, it felt like one of those things immature college guys do when they’re in between classes. Over time, though, that experience has stuck with me and for the right reasons. That was one of the first times I really knew what it was like to feel confident as a man. It wouldn’t be the last, though.

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As I got older, I had more of those moments that helped strengthen me into the man I am now. However, that one fateful day when I tried on a banana hammock for the first time and loved it stands out more than most. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to keep it. My roommate still took it back. I think he even wore it the next day, although I’m not sure.

Whatever the case, the impact was indelible and I’ve found myself contemplating it more lately. As I said before, a beautiful woman wearing a thong isn’t that much of a spectacle anymore. If anything, it’s celebrated. It’s a symbol of sexiness. It creates spectacles at the beach and inspires sexy songs.

For men, though, the reaction is different. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a double standard. Granted, there are some men that can’t look that sexy in a banana hammock, just as there are some women who can’t pull it off either. Even for the men who do, though, it’s not seen with the same sexual aura.

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A man walking around in a banana hammock is sure to generate plenty of looks, but they don’t evoke the same intrigue and interest as a female thong. Some women may find it attractive, as the success of the “Magic Mike” movies has shown. Others may find it funny. However, there’s still a notable gap between the sex appeal of a banana hammock and that of a thong.

Perhaps the success of movies like “Magic Mike” can narrow that gap. Personally, I hope it does. I think I look better in a banana hammock now than I did back in college. If I find myself in a relationship with someone, I’d like to think my lover would find it just as sexy as I would with them if they wore a thong.

In a sense, albeit a limited one, the disparity between banana hammocks and thongs reflect the different attitudes we have towards sex appeal. It’s far from the widest disparity between genders and, unlike others, isn’t that detrimental. That said, I do hope it narrows so men can enjoy that extra sexy feeling along with women. That, I believe, is a feeling that should be gender neutral.

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