Tag Archives: men’s issues

What It Means To “Man Up” And Why It’s Changing (For The Worse)

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It wasn’t that long ago that parents and peers emphasized the importance of “manning up” to young boys. There would come a point in a kid’s life where he was encouraged to do more than just grow up. He was expected to push himself in a unique way, fighting and sacrificing for those who couldn’t. Sometimes, those expectations were unreasonable and a little unhealthy, but it was part of the overall gender dynamic.

That dynamic has been changing a great deal over the past several decades. I’m young enough to have grown up during many of those changes, but old enough to remember the old traditions associated with “manning up.” The sheer breadth of that change has been remarkable, but not entirely in a good way.

For the most part, I was never pushed too hard to man up by others. My friends and family encouraged me to push myself, but never to the point where I felt pressure or anxiety. I often ended up pushing myself, whether it involved going to college or moving out of my parents’ house.

That’s not say I didn’t feel any pressure to “man up” at any point in my life. Beyond my friends and family, I was as vulnerable to expectations surrounding masculinity as anyone. Most of the time, those expectations involved little things like stepping up to fix a problem, helping out those who were physically limited, and enduring pain or discomfort in the name of a particular goal.

Overall, I feel as though these expectations were either healthy or benign. Some of those standards could’ve been gender neural. When you see someone in a wheelchair at the grocery store struggling to get something from a shelf, it’s neither masculine nor feminine to help them. That’s just common courtesy.

In recent years, however, the whole notion of “manning up” has gained new a new complications. Some of them are ideological. Some of them are politically motivated. It’s because of these various nuances that I put the term in quotes because its meaning keeps shifting, gaining and losing connotations year by year. At some point, the term itself may become empty.

In contemplating that meaning, I thought briefly about the connotations that term had back when I was a kid. I doubt my interpretation was definitive, but I like to think it captured the spirit of the term. When someone told me to “man up,” this is what I took it to mean.

  • Grow up and mature
  • Take responsibility and solve your own problems
  • Stop whining and start doing something about it
  • Quit being satisfied with mediocrity and push yourself
  • Be stronger and tougher in difficult situations
  • Work hard and endure for the good of others who can’t

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these same traits associated with superheroes, as espoused by the comic books I read and the cartoons I watched. They might have colored my perspective on masculinity and “manning up,” but I suspect these ideals were still consistent with healthy masculinity. The fact that characters like Wonder Woman and Storm of the X-men had some of these traits was just a bonus.

Now, as I contemplate the meaning of “manning up” in its current context, those don’t seem to have the same prominence they once did. There are also a new host of expectations surrounding the term that are fueled, in part, by identity politics. Some even conflict with others, which adds even more complications.

To get a feel for those complications, I posed a question on Reddit on what “manning up” meant to them. The response somewhat surprised me. Most wouldn’t have found their way into the comic books or cartoons I consumed as a kid, to say the least. They involved ideas such as this.

  • Checking your privileged and making way for those your kind has oppressed
  • Acknowledging the crimes and guilt of your gender, as a whole
  • Sacrificing any advantage or benefits that being a man might have once conferred
  • Subjecting yourself to greater degradation in the name of greater equality
  • Learning about all the ways men have ruined society and the world
  • Accepting that the things men love are unhealthy, damaging, and detrimental

None of these are very positive traits for those being told to “man up.” It’s basically a less overt way to tell them that them being a man is “problematic,” a term that has also gained one too many complications. It’s a term reserved for those who appear to be benefiting too much from being a man who isn’t subject to the rigors of childbirth, rampant sexism, and a long history of exploitation.

Never mind the fact that no one alive to day is directly responsible for the injustices their ancestors committed. They’re also not responsible for the injustices their particular race, gender, or ethnicity committed. It happened in the past. Yes, parts of that past were horrible, but punishing people in the present doesn’t make it less horrific. If anything, it just tries to fight one injustice with another.

This is where the concept of “manning up” really loses whatever positive connotations it once held. It’s a sentiment that many responders to my Reddit question shared. When they contemplate that term, they interpret as someone telling them that they need to endure, suffer, or overlook a particular aspect of their identity.

A few posters went so far as to say the term can be replaced with “serve my interests” and carry the same meaning. While I don’t entirely agree with that notion, I can understand why it would feel that way. Being a man, I sometimes feel like I’m expected to get to the front of the line when the time comes to sacrifice. I won’t go so far as to say I find it oppressive, but it certainly feels like I’m held to a different standard.

Sometimes, that standard can be unreasonable. That was another common theme of the responses I got. The notion of “manning up” denotes operating in a way to avoid a particular stigma that others wouldn’t incur for the same behavior. It’s not always ideological, but the pressure is there.

A man who is too emotional is considered a sissy and has to “man up.” A woman or even a gay man who does this won’t face that stigma.

A man who is reluctant to sacrifice for the well-being of another group is considered selfish and should “man up.” A woman or another minority who show a similar reluctance can do the same, but won’t face the same stigma.

A man who shows his pain when he’s harassed is told to suck it up and “man up.” A woman or minority who is harassed can expect plenty of supporters who will cheer them on. Even if men are subject to more overall harassment, they don’t get any sympathy. They’re told to “man up” while everyone else is allowed to seek social support without much scrutiny.

This, I feel, is the ultimate tragedy of the concept. A term that once use to reflect certain ideals for men has now become an instrument of ridicule. It’s no longer a lesson for boys to learn. It’s a rhetorical shortcut that allows someone to hold an entire group of people to a different standard, one that requires them to go out of their way for someone else.

I don’t doubt that there are instances where it’s good for society that some people go out of their way to help others. For those who are disabled, elderly, or ill, it’s just more just and compassionate to set a different standard for ourselves. We don’t ask someone who is missing a limb or suffering from ALS to “man up.” We go out of our way to help them.

It’s the extent of those instances, however, that seems to be damaging the notion. It’s no longer sufficient to just have a particular ailment or shortcoming. Just being someone who isn’t a man who can claim some sort of injustice, be it historical or contemporary, is sufficient.

I believe that’s a dangerous precedent for men and women, for that matter. It sends the message that in order for there to be more justice and equality, an entire group of people need to sacrifice to an extent where they have to be the villains. They have to come to the table, surrender unconditionally, and admit they were wrong and they were the cause of the problem.

That may not be sentiment of those telling someone to “man up,” but that’s how it’s being interpreted. It’s less a masculine ideal and more a shaming tactic, one that is more likely to incur a backlash rather than get someone to reconsider their understanding of gender roles.

I still feel like there’s a way to recapture the positive elements of “manning up.” Gender dynamics is one of those concepts that’s always evolving. Sometimes, there’s progress. Sometimes, there are setbacks. At the moment, I think masculinity and femininity are going through some growing pains as they adapt to a changing world. That process is likely to involve plenty of conflicts and controversies along the way.

In the long run, though, I think society will find a healthy balance with respect to “manning up.” I think there’s a way to use that notion to bring out the best in men and women alike. It’ll likely take plenty of work, toil, and sacrifice from everyone involved in gender-driven controversies, but it’s definitely worth doing.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, media issues, political correctness, sex in society, sexuality

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

Why The Sexual Revolution Was Incomplete (And How It Can Be Completed)

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Imagine, for a moment, putting together a piece of furniture, but stopping before it was finished. Depending on where you stop, chances are the furniture isn’t going to be as useful as you’d hoped. Sure, it may still function to some extent, but it’s incomplete. As a result, it can’t entirely do what it’s supposed to do.

With that idea in mind, imagine the same thing happening to a major social movement, a new vision for society, or a full-blown revolution. What happens if it stops before it realizes its goals? Even if some of those goals were unachievable, abruptly stopping an ongoing process or not bothering to adjust the methods of that process is bound to cause issues.

Some argue that the civil rights movement that began in 1950s was never completed. Others may argue that the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution were never complete, which was why they resulted in so much chaos and destruction. I’m not an expert on those subjects so I’m not going to wade into them.

However, I would support an argument stating that the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s was not complete and that has heavily influenced ongoing controversies involving sex, gender, and everything in between. Again, I am not an expert in this field. I am an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’m about as much an expert as I am a wizard.

Expert or not, I do think that incomplete revolution is worth talking about in the context of ongoing gender-driven issues. We’re in the midst of pretty significant upheaval in wake of the anti-harassment movement, which I’ve talked about on more than one occasion and in some pretty eclectic ways. It may seem like this upheaval is very recent, but I believe its roots go back to the sexual revolution in the 1960s.

With each passing year, the sexual revolution gets a worse and worse rap. Conservative types will blame the sexual revolution for everything from human trafficking to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. Liberal types are starting to blame it on current social ills like the Harvey Weinstein scandal and so-called toxic masculinity.

To some extent, that’s understandable when you consider the context of the sexual revolution. As I’ve noted before, this major social upheaval emerged in a perfect convergence of factors. First, contraception and modern medicine made exploring sex less risky. Second, a generation of young people that has grown up in the exceedingly uptight 1950s rebelled.

Regardless of how you may feel about the sexual revolution now, it’s easy to understand why it happened when you look at the circumstances. A generation saw the state of sex in society and were not satisfied with it. As such, they sought change. Moreover, they sought radical change and not just in the classic hippie sort of way.

It wasn’t just about unmarried men and women having sex just to enjoy it and not make grandkids for their parents. The sexual revolution dared to explore and undermine taboos about homosexuality, monogamy, and gender roles. To some extent, the sexual revolution helped facilitate a new era of feminism that pushed for greater gender equality.

While I know feminism has some controversial connotations these days, the brand of feminism that emerged during the sexual revolution is one that I think most would support in 2018. They helped push for some of the legal protections and educational opportunities that have helped multiple generations of women and men alike.

Moreover, and most importantly to the gender issues of today, the sexual revolution attempted to normalize discussions and depictions of sexuality in general. One could argue that was the most critical aspect of the revolution, beyond the hippies and free love. After all, it’s next to impossible to have a meaningful discussion about anything if the topic is so taboo.

It’s also in this critical area, however, that the sexual revolution came up short. Sure, those involved did plenty of outrageous things, in private and in public, that shocked and terrified their more repressed elders. That was revolutionary for its time. However, they didn’t confront the stigma surrounding sex, at least not in a way that was gender neutral.

This is where I’m sure I’m going to draw the ire of both sides of gender-driven debates, but I think this needs to be said to add a little insight to the current debate. Yes, the sexual revolution did a lot to make sexual activity outside of marriage less taboo. However, that impact did not affect men and women the same way.

In wake of that revolution, men no longer faced as much stigma for fooling around sexually. The idea of “boys will be boys” became an accepted mantra. A young man fooled around in his youth, had multiple partners, and generally enjoyed himself without much shame. The sexual revolution helped him a great deal in terms of realizing his sexuality.

Ideally, women should’ve enjoyed the same freedom. However, that’s not what happened. There’s no “girls will be girls” equivalent. Even during the sexual revolution, women who slept around like their male counterparts were still subject to stigma. They were still called sluts and whores. They were generally looked down upon.

Now, before some start bemoaning “patriarchy” or something of the sort, it’s important to note that the source of that stigma does not come exclusively from men. In fact, according to a study done by Demos, other women were far more likely to slut-shame or use derogatory words to other women compared to men.

Regardless of the source, that lingering stigma that the sexual revolution attempted to confront has helped maintain a significant gender gap with respect to sexual freedom. It’s why men can be studs, but only women can be sluts, a frustrating double standard that has lingered well beyond the 1960s.

It may also be a significant factor in the current orgasm gap between men and women. Whereas the male orgasm is seen as routine and uncomplicated, the female orgasm has this elaborate mystique surrounding it. Just talking about it seems akin to talking about the meaning of life.

In many respects, that vast disparity reflects the current sexual divide. Men are still expected to be sexually aggressive. Women are still expected to be sexually reserved. Any deviation is subject to stigma. As is often the case with expectations, it doesn’t take much for them to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Due to that aggression, society has done a lot to cater to male sexual desires. That same system has done just as much to mystify female sexuality. It’s a grossly imperfect system, one that limits the ability of women to explore their sexuality without fear while giving men in positions of power more reason to pursue sex as though it were a holy relic.

That is not in line with the ideals of the sexual revolution. Love them or hate them, hippies had the right idea in terms of openness about sex. They did not divide the sexuality of a particular gender into something entirely different. They saw it as one thing that was worth exploring, but stopped short of pursuing it fully.

That shortcoming has had some noteworthy consequences. Reason Magazine nicely summed it up in a recent article about the sexual revolution and the sexual frustrations that current generations face.

The problem is not that sex has been over commodified as hardline feminists and conservatives (talk about strange bedfellows!) like to assert; the problem is that it hasn’t been commodified enough. The sexual industry in the broadest sense hasn’t matured enough yet to cater to the myriad and diverse needs of lonely single people (of both sexes). Where are the Dr. Ruths for single people facing confidence issues or looking for advice?

Now, none of this is to detract from the aspects of the sexual revolution that were misguided or had long-reaching consequences. The law of proportional backlash for social movements doesn’t care how complete or incomplete it is. Even if the sexual revolution had succeeded, it would’ve still incurred a counter-revolution of some sorts.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the sexual revolution got the conversation going on how we stigmatize sex. It wasn’t completed and there are plenty of flaws in our current sexual landscape to show that. Even so, that conversation is still worth having and I would argue it’s more important to have now than at any time in 1960s.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, polyamory, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality

The (Fragile) State Of Modern Chivalry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why We Should Be Excited (And Worried) About A “Y: The Last Man” TV Show

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There are certain announcements that certain kinds of comic book fans have been waiting to hear for years. Most people who don’t have boxes and bookshelves full of comics probably won’t appreciate the importance of those announcements when they finally arrive. Ideally, everyone eventually comes to acknowledge how important it is in the long run.

Just recently, one of those announcements hit the entertainment wire and comic book fans like myself are still trying to catch their breath from the excitement. It has to do with a series called “Y: The Last Man,” one of the most critically acclaimed comic book series of the past 20 years. According to The Hollywood Reporter, FX has officially ordered a pilot for a TV series based on this comic.

I know that may not sound like ground-breaking news in an era when TV shows based on comic books account for a sizable chunk of programming. There are shows featuring famous superheroes like “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” and “Daredevil.” There are also shows based on non-superhero comics like “Preacher” and “The Walking Dead.” Why is adding yet another show to that list such a big deal?

Well, as someone who has thoroughly read and deeply enjoyed Y: The Last Man, I can attest that this is one of those comics that is special for all the right reasons. It’s compelling, dramatic, mysterious, and emotional on so many levels. It doesn’t just tell a great story. It builds an entirely new world around a truly catastrophic event.

The premise of Y: The Last Man is simple in concept, but grandiose in implications. One day, all the men in the world just die. They don’t get sick first. There’s no mass pandemic. They all just start bleeding from their mouth and eyes before they keel over and die. It’s not just human men either. Everything with a Y-chromosome just dies.

It happens so suddenly and so quickly. It’s not the flashiest apocalypse, but it’s every bit as brutal and traumatic as it sounds. In the midst of this massive gendercide, only one man survives for mysterious reasons. His name is Yorick Brown, an amateur escape artist who also happens to have a male pet monkey, who also survives.

The story about how he survives in this post-apocalyptic world, while also trying to uncover the mysteries of the plague that killed all the men, is full of intrigue, sorrow, hope, and drama. The fact that it manages to achieve all this without zombies or superheroes makes it all the more remarkable.

Add on top quality writing from by acclaimed comic writer Brian K. Vaughan and top-notch art from Pia Guerra and it’s easy to see why this series received multiple awards, including the coveted Eisner Award back in 2008. The fact that Y: The Last Man wasn’t made into a movie or TV show earlier is both shocking and outrageous.

To be fair, there have been multiple attempts to make a movie based on the series, all of which failed for a wide variety of reasons. Given the scope and nature of the story, though, a TV series is probably more suited and there has been interest in making one since 2010.

Now that there’s finally a pilot in the works on FX, a network that is less inclined to water down the harsher elements of the series, there’s are plenty of reasons for comic fans and fans of apocalyptic dramas to be excited. At the same time, however, there are also a plenty of reasons to worry.

Had this been announced five years ago, I don’t think those worries would’ve been major. Then, gender politics began getting exceedingly heated. From scandals born from video games to new concerns about female representation in movies to the anti-harassment movement, things have gotten a lot more hostile between genders.

This is an era where every action between men and women are subject to greater scrutiny. It’s an era where attempts at rational discussion are overshadowed by ever-present outrage. Buzzwords like mansplaining, social justice warrior, soy boy, and toxic masculinity are now part of our lexicon. I’ve expressed my dismay over such terms and why they’re empty in meaning, but I don’t expect them to disappear anytime soon.

It’s because of these ongoing trends in gender politics that I’m concerned about what form Y: The Last Man will take in this era. I don’t expect a perfect, panel-for-panel recreation of the 60-issue comic series. That’s not always necessary, as the success of “The Walking Dead” has proven.

However, I do worry that the greater meaning and dramatic impacts of the story will get lost, somehow, under the weight of ongoing gender politics. Some of those concerns are even articulated in the Hollywood Report’s announcement. Mr. Vaughan is even quoted as saying this when he met with potential show-runner, Michael Green.

“When [Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately, I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

It’s the bolded part that really has me worried. I’m not entirely surprised that producers of the show would want to tap into ongoing debates about toxic masculinity, no matter how asinine a term that might be. Like it or not, it is a relevant issue and for a premise that involves killing nearly all the men on the planet, it’s going to influence the story.

It’s just a matter of how different those involved want to make the narrative in Y: The Last Man. What matters most, however, is keeping with the overall theme of the story. Y: The Last Man is not just about an apocalypse involving gendercide. It’s part of a much larger world full of colorful and, at times, eccentric characters.

What happens to these characters is downright traumatic, as is to be expected in the face of a global apocalypse. The world, as they know it, is shattered. Their sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers are all dead. The pain, the loss, the sorrow, and the anger surrounding that trauma is what helps drive the story.

That’s especially true of the lone male survivor, Yorick Brown. In the comic, he’s not a superhero or even a multi-talented super-genius. In fact, he’s painfully human and downright inept at times, especially compared to some of his supporting cast. However, he never comes off as a whiny beta male or a brutish meathead. He’s the kind of character we see in real men throughout the real world.

Any effort to subvert that by turning him into some sort of superhero or some beta male weakling will remove a core aspect of Yorick’s appeal, not to mention the appeal of the overall story. It’s not just Yorick’s story either. The female characters in this story are every bit as rich and diverse, but as we saw with the female characters in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” that can be badly mishandled.

There are no Mary Sues in Y: The Last Man. There are no Lara Crofts or Wonder Womans either. These characters, especially Yorick’s sister, Hero Brown, and his bodyguard and traveling companion, Agent 355, are all as human as he is. They fight, struggle, fail, and suffer like real people navigating a traumatic apocalypse.

That’s not to say there aren’t some elements of gender politics in Y: The Last Man. There are aspects of the story that lend plenty of fodder to the radical feminist part of the political spectrum. There are a few characters who go so far as to celebrate the death of all men. The fact that some women in the real world have advocated killing all men shows that this sentiment is very present.

At the same time, there are parts of Y: The Last Man that will appeal to the men’s rights crowd, as well. The way society collapses with the death of all the men will give plenty of credence to those seeking to highlight men’s role in society. As with the radical feminists, though, it might be tempting to take it too far.

The story is not defined exclusively by toxic masculinity or radical feminism. It’s a story that puts men, women, and society in an extreme situation that brings out the best and worst in them. That would be the ultimate failure for a show like this and an egregious insult for a series as celebrated as Y: The Last Man. If it becomes driven by gender politics and not the spirit of the actual story, then that’s tragedy for all genders.

 

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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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