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Why Treating Sexuality As A Disease (Always) Fails

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It wasn’t too long ago that discussions about reparative therapy, also known as gay conversion therapy, became more a joke than a serious concept. Going back to Michele Bachman’s failed presidential bid in 2012, and all the assorted jokes about her husband, who ran a religion-based therapy center, I think it’s safe to say that this issue has run its course and for good reason.

There was once a time when attempting to change someone’s sexuality into whatever society deemed acceptable was a serious pursuit. Even Sigmund Freud contributed to that effort, going so far as to claim that homosexuality could be cured through hypnosis. Seeing as how hypnotists are more likely to work in Las Vegas stage shows instead of clinics, it should be obvious how wrong he was.

As it stands, reparative therapy is rejected and discouraged by nearly every legitimate psychological and therapeutic organization on the planet. There are still those who claim that’s just part of the larger gay agenda, but those claims don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever that many organizations to agree that something is so ineffective and harmful, it’s usually a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong with it.

For the rest of the population that doesn’t buy into homophobic conspiracy theories, the issue is resolved. While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about human sexuality, our current understanding offers a fairly concise conclusion. It’s not possible to completely change or radically reorient someone’s sexuality.

So in light this widely-accepted conclusion, any subsequent efforts to radically alter someone’s sexuality through archaic tactics that involve shame, guilt, and pseudo-spiritual bunk should be just as asinine. The keyword there is it should be. Even though reparative therapy is roundly condemned, the spirit of that therapy continues, albeit with a different target.

This time, the targets aren’t homosexuals or some other sexual minority. Instead, the scope is bigger and more extensive than even defunct anti-gay ministries could ever hope to achieve. It’s taking aim at sexuality, as a whole, particularly that of men. While it doesn’t have an official title, the tactics are distressingly similar.

I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I’d rather not throw around blanket terms for an issue this vast. Much of it stems from those opposing everything associated with “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve already condemned.

From sex scandals to advertising to representations in major movies, the obstacle is the same. A particular brand of male sexuality that caters to straight men seeking the company of beautiful women for basic, shallow reasons isn’t just falling out of favor. It’s seen as corrupt, part of some grand patriarchal conspiracy.

It’s so corrupt that some, such as Joss Whedon, describe it like a disease. Men who simply have these desires are somehow flawed and need to either be educated or scorned. It’s not quite at the level that homosexuals endured in the past, but the common themes are still there.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it began. Some might point to the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst that turned the public against the whims of horny men, but I think it goes back further than that, even past the 2016 Presidential Election. The concept of criticizing men’s preference to admire beautiful women isn’t new. The extent of that criticism, however, is unprecedented and still growing.

Regardless of how it began, either through vocal critics of breast depictions in video games or protesting sexy advertising, it’s a major movement now. It has popular hashtags and the backing of powerful media outlets. If you’re a straight man who enjoys admiring beautiful women, then congratulations. You’re the source of all the problems in our current sexual landscape.

Given the intensity of the rhetoric in the movement, it’s not just about protesting the injustices perpetrated by men in positions of power who freely exploited that power. It’s attacking certain manifestations of sexuality as a whole, deeming them “problematic” to the point where it’s practically pathologized. That’s how we end up with asinine terms like “toxic masculinity.”

It’s for that reason that the parallels between the long-debunked ideas of reparative therapy and ongoing condemnations of male sexuality are all the more disturbing. Stories about LGBT youth who survived reparative therapy, and not all of them do, tend to tell similar stories. The so-called therapy they get usually involves the following:

  • Excessive condemnation and shaming of certain desires
  • Attributing certain sexual desires with negative connotations
  • Demanding frequent confessions of guilt for past misdeeds, real or imagined
  • Demanding complete dissociation from a previous lifestyle
  • Attributing desires and feelings to disease or an unhealthy state of being
  • Attacking or subverting someone’s identity in an effort to re-shape it
  • Conditioning someone to associate natural feelings with negative sentiments

To anyone who has been keeping track of how men have been criticized for their attitudes towards some of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, these methods should sound painfully familiar. It’s also worth noting that these are methods that the American Psychological Association deems harmful and even dangerous.

Now, I want to be careful with my rhetoric here because I don’t want to imply that straight men who enjoy looking at beautiful women in bikinis are suffering to the same extent LGBT people suffered in these faux-therapeutic settings. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I’m just trying to highlight the extent to which the approaches are similar, even if they’re not the same.

It’s one thing to punish actual misconduct. It’s quite another to attack the underlying desires of an entire group. Men looking at beautiful women is now a symptom of objectification, patriarchy, and misogyny. Conversely, women looking at beautiful men is a major Hollywood movie starting Channing Tatum. See the difference?

That difference matters because treating those attitudes as diseases is every bit as misguided as treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease. It would be akin to referring to all homosexuality as “toxic sexuality” instead of a simple variation among the vast spectrum that is human sexuality.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with certain attitudes men have towards sexuality. There are plenty of issues about women’s attitudes as well. However, the fact that the current culture, empowered by social media and selective biases, treats those attitudes the same way reparative therapy treats homosexuality is both revealing and distressing.

The negative impacts of those methods are well-documented, both in terms of harm and ineffectiveness. Relentlessly shaming people for their sexuality, be they straight men or gay women, is pretty damaging. It doesn’t take a licensed therapist to know that conditioning someone to hate their own desires will seriously affect their mental health.

There are many lessons to learn from the failures of reparative therapy. For one, it revealed just how powerful sexual and romantic desire can be in a person. It can also reflect how lonely it can be when those feelings are deemed defective, toxic, or deviant by a society, at large. Countless LGBT individuals have suffered because of these misguided efforts. More will suffer if those lessons aren’t heeded.

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

Why The Men Were Silent At The Golden Globes (For Good Reason)

When I was in middle school, I had a particularly vindictive gym teacher one year who had a knack for breaking the spirits of pre-teens. If we forgot to wash our uniforms, failed to take our seats on time, or just farted too loud, we were given a choice. Either we had to run a mile or do 100 push-ups. We got to choose, but both choices sucked.

The real kicker was that if we didn’t choose, then the teacher would choose for us and would go out of his way to make that choice seem extra cruel. It was one of those situations where it really didn’t matter what we said or did. One way or another, we were going to suffer for our actions and inaction.

This brings me to this year’s Golden Globes. Bear with me. I promise that’s not as big a non-sequiter as it sounds. There’s a valid reason I brought up the story of my vindictive gym teacher and it ties directly into the ongoing social movement to combat the sexual misconduct of powerful men.

I’ve talked about this issue before and, to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to keep discussing it. I would much rather be telling sexy stories, sharing sexy thoughts, or discussing upcoming superhero movies. However, these issues surrounding sexual misconduct in Hollywood have an undeniable impact on the sexual landscape and as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not something I can ignore.

A lot has been said and done since the movement began in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There has been a great deal of outrage, complete with protests and hashtags. Powerful men have fallen. Careers and reputations have been ruined. Entire movies and TV shows have actually been changed, as a result of this effort.

In some respects, it’s a good thing and I have pointed out the silver linings. Men harassing or abusing women is not something a just society should overlook. This isn’t one of those irrational moral panics, such as Satanic ritual abuse or the impact of violent video games. These instances of men abusing women have happened and some of the accused have confessed.

However, this ongoing crusade against powerful men, as well as horny men in general, has walked a fine line between a pursuing justice and demonizing any man who ever dared to admire a beautiful woman. It’s not quite at the level of an old-fashioned witch hunt, but it’s already in that dark territory where passions obscure reality.

What happened at the Golden Globes might end up being the most telling sign of all. Initially, the big news for this event was positive. Some of the most prominent women in Hollywood, including Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, came together in a show of solidarity against the sexual victimization of women. They all wore black dresses and got behind the newly-created “Time’s Up” movement.

Like other movements before it, the intent is good. This movement seeks to provide legal defense and resources for those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct. That’s an objectively good thing, but that wasn’t the most revealing moment of the Golden Globes. Instead, the biggest message came from what was not said.

It has been reported by more than one outlet. While the women at the Golden Globes were quite vocal in their ongoing efforts to clamp down on sexual misconduct, the men were mostly silent. Other than a brief remark from Seth Meyers at the beginning and some men dressing in black, Hollywood’s male stars were largely silent.

To some, this is already very problematic. I imagine it’s going to stir quite a bit of outrage among those trying to further the movement. However, when you take a step back and look at the situation in which these men were in, their silence makes complete sense. In fact, those same women who are determined to combat the Harvey Weinsteins of the world may very well have made it their only option.

To understand why, think back to my vindictive gym teacher for a moment. That teacher understood that to break the spirits of powerless pre-teens, it was necessary to put them in a situation where their choices mattered less than the ugly gym uniforms the school forced them to wear. By establishing just how powerless they were, it made any effort to speak up seem pointless.

These men, as powerful and successful they may be, were in a situation not unlike the one my hapless classmates were in that year. There was nothing they could’ve said or done that wouldn’t have been deconstructed, dissected, or misconstrued. No matter what they said or didn’t say, it would be used to label them as enemies of the movement and of women, as a whole.

If one of the men stood up on that stage and gave an impassioned speech condemning Harvey Weinstein, then his reputation would suffer. He would be labeled a virtue signaling white knight who was compensating for something. After what happened to Joss Whedon, those concerns wouldn’t be unfounded. He may even still face condemnation among women for not speaking up earlier or naming other harassers.

If that same man stood up and tried to give an impassioned speech on the importance of confronting the issue responsibly, then he would likely have suffered condemnation similar to that of Matt Damon, who dared to question whether all harassment should be treated equally. Even hinting at such nuance would’ve earned that man the toxic label of a misogynistic victim blamer.

Essentially, the men at the Golden Globes knew they couldn’t win either way. No matter what they said, it would’ve been used against them or undermined their career, somehow. These men, as powerful and successful they may be, are still human, despite what Tom Cruise may claim. They want to protect their jobs and their reputations. They can’t do that if they get slapped with these toxic labels.

In the end, silence was their safest bet and that, in and of itself, reveals the extent to which this crusade against sexual misconduct has gone. It’s past the point where people can have reasoned arguments about the issue. Now, it’s all outrage and hyperbole. Either you’re completely on board with that outrage or you’re just as bad as Harvey Weinstein. There is no gray area.

That lack of gray area means men have to be silent, which is the exact opposite of what the women in the movement are trying to achieve. It’s ironic, but understandable. These men aren’t going to garner much sympathy. They’re rich, handsome, and successful. There’s only so much sympathy they can inspire, due to their position.

Silence is the only way to avoid the added scrutiny that would undermine a career. Silence is the only way to avoid saying something that might offend, enrage, or upset a public that has shown in recent times an uncanny unwillingness to ruin lives and reputations. It’s actually worse than censorship, when you think about it, because it is self-imposed rather than coerced.

The fact that the men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes may or may not represent a tipping point, of sorts. If the anti-harassment movement has created an environment that’s so frail that silence is the safest recourse, then that same movement lacks a critical component it needs to succeed.

Like it or not, men need to be part of the conversation with respect to sexual misconduct. Silence on their part means the crimes, the culture, and the attitudes that fosters such misconduct won’t change. Moreover, their point of view cannot be discounted as virtue signaling or “mansplaining.” The fact remains that if people feel helpless, then they won’t care enough to make the effort.

Like the broken spirits of my old gym class, if the men don’t think their words matter or may be used against them, then it makes perfect sense for them to remain silent. Outrage, awareness, and condemnation alone is not going to inspire meaningful change in the dynamics between men and women.

Both sides actually have to listen to one another and feel their words actually matter. It’s only then when silence will no longer be the most preferred and logical recourse.

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Why The Term “Toxic Masculinity” Should Be Retired

There aren’t a lot of terms in the English language that I wish could be uninvented. As someone with a strong appreciation for language, as well as someone who aced every essay question in school, the concept of throwing away words is akin to throwing away a box of fresh donuts. It’s an abhorrent thought.

That said, I do find myself making exceptions every now and then. Sometimes, you have to because a set of words comes along that’s so loaded, so skewed, and so esoteric that its only real use is to embolden assholes and inspire disdain. Given how there are enough assholes in this world, male and female alike, such words can be powerful weapons.

That leads me to one of the few terms I wish we could expunge from the English language, as well as every other language, including those invented by Tolken and Star Trek.

Toxic Masculinity

You’ve probably heard it before and never in a positive context so get ready to cringe. You may find yourself cringing again, just by reading over it. For that, I apologize. However, this term and what it entails is worth discussing because it affects men, women, and everything in between.

In terms of contemporary meaning, it’s worth noting that the idea of toxic masculinity is fairly new in terms of context. It only recently emerged as a major buzzword of third wave feminism, which I’ve mentioned before and is still evolving. It’s definition is somewhat vague, which is one of its many problems, but according to Wikipedia, it embodies all sorts of problematic concepts.

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse. Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one’s family, are not considered to be toxic.

In simplest terms, toxic masculinity is the idea that the very traits and social norms associated with manhood are both destructive to modern society and detrimental to women. It is basically the invisible hand that guides people towards regressive, patriarchal attitudes that prefer that everyone live in a 50s sitcom.

Granted, that’s an extremely oversimplified understanding of the concept, but it would take way too many blog posts to get into all the nuances that have been ascribed to toxic masculinity. For this piece, I want to focus on the bigger picture and not the fine print.

Now, to be fair, the idea of men being beasts is not new. It pre-dates feminism and modern society by centuries, going all the way back to pagan folklore. However, that concept always came with a particular context, one that the very idea of toxic masculinity seems to ignore.

Dig deep into any mythos about snarling, beast-like men and you’ll usually encounter the same themes. Put a man in a situation where he’s stripped of humanity, love, community, and family and he becomes a pretty dangerous person. That’s basically the entire concept behind the appeal of characters like Wolverine from the X-men.

With toxic masculinity, though, that important caveat gets overlooked or cast aside. In applying toxic masculinity in its current context, there’s no circumstance behind all these negative traits associated with men. Just being a man and having any concept of masculinity is inherently toxic.

This is the most nefarious, not to mention insulting, aspect of the concept. It eschews any idea of context and calls the entire experience of being masculine toxic. It creates a situation where the only way to not be toxic is to be feminine, which is overly convenient for those arguing certain brands of feminism.

In essence, it readily embraces one of the most common and well-known fallacies of all time. You’ve probably heard it before, but it can’t be belabored enough.

Correlation does NOT imply causation.

It’s behind every major superstition and many failed scientific observations. It’s also the only way in which toxic masculinity works, with respect to criticizing an entire gender.

With toxic masculinity, there is no circumstance or context. There’s no need to subject anyone to a dehumanizing process, be it complex social pressures or an adamantium bonding process. Just being a man who exercises his masculinity in any capacity is inherently toxic.

That’s a wonderfully simplistic understanding that encapsulates an entire gender for all the wrong reasons, but as is often the case with wonderfully simplistic ideas, it’s not accurate. With toxic masculinity, though, it’s far more dangerous.

Being such a new word that hasn’t had time to develop traditions and complexity, toxic masculinity is a lot like other concepts, such as “fake news” and “alternative facts.” They’re so new and so vague that you can basically use it as linguistic cheat code to discount anything that you either don’t agree with or don’t care to scrutinize.

A man commits more crime than a woman? That’s toxic masculinity.

A man blames a rape victims for putting herself in a dangerous situation? That’s toxic masculinity.

A man makes an inappropriate joke that offends women? That’s toxic masculinity.

A man denies sexually harassing a woman? That’s toxic masculinity.

A man uses vulgar, profane insults while playing video games? That’s toxic masculinity.

There’s a clear pattern here in that there doesn’t need to be a pattern. Just take any undesirable trait ever ascribed to a man and call it toxic masculinity. Then, like magic, there’s no need to scrutinize context or circumstance. There’s no need to run any tests or dig deeper. You know the diagnosis and the treatment is obvious. If masculinity is so toxic, then that means we just have to discourage masculinity altogether.

Again, it’s an overly simple interpretation of an exceedingly complex phenomenon. It’s one that lumps all men, as well as the many dynamics behind masculinity, into a singular collection of traits that just happen to have all sorts of negative connotations. It provides a clear antagonist for those seeking gender equality or women’s rights. It also provides a potent mechanism for shaming men.

Ironically, this concept of treating certain gender traits as outright diseases is not unprecedented. In fact, there was a time when the roles were reversed and it was feminine traits that were considered “toxic.” However, people didn’t call it that. They actually had a medical term for it, which was “female hysteria.” Look at the definition and notice some of the parallels to toxic masculinity.

Women considered to have had it exhibited a wide array of symptoms, including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble”.

It seems funny and disturbing now, but back then, it was a serious issue. Society really did get to a point where being too feminine was considered a disease. Just being a woman carried with it an inherent shame that people couldn’t escape.

However, at least with female hysteria, the treatment wasn’t that bad in that it involved regularly being masturbated to orgasm. In terms of medical treatments, that beats the hell out of headaches and constipation. For toxic masculinity, though, there is no such treatment.

Since the term is so vague and its concepts so loaded, it creates a situation where the only way to avoid it is for a man to constantly denounce, deny, and disparage a core part of his identity. That usually involves a lot of virtue signaling and adopting the role of a beta male. The fact that approach has one too many similarities to gay conversion therapy should give anyone pause.

As it stands, the newness and ambiguity of toxic masculinity makes it a useful term for those who need an easy way to disparage men or extrapolate specific male behaviors to suit an agenda. That’s what makes it such a dangerous term for men and women alike, but that’s also what makes it an easy term to drop.

Now, I’m not denying that men have their share of undesirable traits. I also don’t deny that there are some aspects of masculinity that are worth scrutinizing. However, little good has ever come from creating terms that treat basic human traits as a disease. It creates a dangerous precedent that skews what it means to be sick and healthy.

Since it’s in the best interest for society and aspiring erotica/romance writers for genders to get along, ditching such a flawed concept like toxic masculinity will definitely help. It won’t solve all the issues associated with masculinity and feminism, but if we can do it for female hysteria, we can do it for toxic masculinity.

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Is Loneliness Really THAT Bad For You?

I’d like to preface this article with what I hope is an exciting announcement. As I write this, I’m preparing to move to a new place. By nearly every measure, it’s a good thing. My living situation is set to change for the better.

Without getting into the specifics, just know that I’ve been living with roommates in a shared house for quite some time now. That has been my standard living situation since college. For a while now, I’ve been looking to upgrade that situation by buying my own condo. I’ve been working hard, selling as many sexy novels as I can, to scrap together enough money.

Finally, I had the money and I found the perfect place. In less than a month, I’ll be living on my own in a beautiful one bedroom, one bathroom condo that I won’t have to share with anyone else. I won’t just be able to sleep naked anymore. My entire living situation will be clothing optional. Just thinking about it brings tears of joy to my eyes.

I’m genuinely excited about this and not just because it will provide more opportunities for nudity. However, it does give me some pause in terms of the larger implications. Every major change in life, be it a living situation or a new lover, is bound to have unforeseen impacts. Moving to a new place certainly qualifies.

The most jarring change in this instance is that, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll be living completely alone. I won’t have to contend with roommates. I won’t have to share any ounce of my living space. Everything from the thermostat to the brand of toilet paper to the visibility of my Playboy calendar will be completely under my control.

I don’t deny that living alone has its appeal, but I’m somewhat used to always being in a place where I could just go talk to someone if I wanted. Living in this new place will mean fewer opportunities of that nature. Then, I found this distressing article from the New York Times on the potential health hazards of living alone and suddenly, the price for clothing-optional living seems a bit higher.

The hazards are not necessarily trivial. This isn’t something that can be fixed by eating an extra bowl of fruit, running a few miles, or getting a coffee enema, which is a thing. According to the article, these are some of the issues that loneliness and isolation can breed.

Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.

While it’s important to note that the keyword in that conclusion is that it can incur these effects. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will. As I’ve noted before, human beings are frustratingly complex creatures. Anyone who claims that there’s a simple solution to a big problem is usually pursuing a bullshit agenda that makes lousy documentaries.

However, there is some relevant data behind this phenomenon of loneliness being detrimental to someone’s mental health. According to a 2013 study by the American Journal for Public Health, socially isolated men and women died earlier at a rate that was consistent with smoking and high blood pressure. Those kinds of correlations are disconcerting, even if they’re not akin to direct causation.

Smoking, Cigarette, Smoke, Unhealthy, Cigar, Addiction

Under the lens of caveman logic, that makes sense. Human beings are a very social species. Social interaction is a core need, right up there with food, water, and a regular orgasm. It’s because of our social nature that solitary confinement is rightly seen as torture.

While I do have plenty of other social outlets, primarily my friends and a very supportive family, living alone will make it easier to keep to myself more often. Granted, that could change fairly quickly if I fall in love and get into a relationship. That’s something I am actively working on. However, I’m not going to assume that’ll happen soon after I move in.

I’m taking these concerns seriously, but I’m still looking forward to the benefits. As if often the case with something as complex as human psychology, there are also potential benefits to living alone. There is some research that indicates that certain people do better when they live alone. I’m not sure that I’m one of those people, but Psychology Today summed it up nicely with the kind caveman logic that makes me smile.

For some people, living alone is not just a casual preference – it feels more like a need. What happens when you are deprived of a genuine need? You can’t stop thinking about it. You daydream about it, makes plans for when you will get to have that need fulfilled again. When living alone is a need and you finally get to do it after being deprived, you feel relief and a sense that your living situation is once again just what it should be.

So with these variations in mind, I’ve got a lot to think about as I prepare to take this big step in my life. I’m still excited about it. I’m really looking forward to actually owning my own place, having a space I can truly call my own. It goes beyond having an excuse to spend more time naked. It’s about me carving a real space for myself.

I don’t know entirely how I’m going to handle it. I like to think I know myself well enough to believe that I’ll be among those who benefit from living alone. I could very well be wrong, but I’ll finally have a chance to find out.

To everyone else who may be facing this issue, take some comfort in the knowledge that the question as to whether being alone is bad for you has no clear-cut answer. It varies from person to person. Some people benefit. Some people don’t. Human beings are kinky like that. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s something I can appreciate.

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A (Distressing) Thought Experiment On Gender Double Standards

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Whenever I pose one of my thought experiments, I do so with the hope of inspiring novel, entertaining ideas that get people thinking for all the right reasons. Ideally, these ideas are fun and enlightening. If they make people horny in the process, then that’s just a bonus.

Every now and then, however, it’s not enough for an idea to be enlightening or sexy. Sometimes, for a thought experiment to work, it needs to make people feel uncomfortable. It needs to create some sort of mental distress.

I know that’s something most people avoid. I’ve even pointed out how our brains are wired to do anything and everything to avoid mental distress, even if it leads to outright hypocrisy.

Well, as uncomfortable as it is, mental distress has a purpose. It forces us to contemplate an idea that highlights a major problem in the world. It’s often one of those problems we know is there on some level, but avoid thinking about because it’s too daunting. For this particular thought experiment, it’s not so much that the idea is overwhelming. It’s more that it reveals something about our attitudes that we don’t often scrutinize.

So with that in mind, here’s the experiment. Think back to any action scene in any major action movie of the past couple decades. Given the glut of superhero movies and “Die Hard” rip-offs out there, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Specifically, think of a scene where a female character was kicking ass. Given the rise of strong female characters, that shouldn’t be too difficult either.

A good example comes from the memorable Black Widow fight scene in “Iron Man 2.” By any measure, it’s a wonderfully entertaining scene. It has Scarlett Johanssen kicking ass in a skin-tight outfit. What’s not to love about it? Most people who watch this scene, especially comic book fans and people who find Scarlett Johanssen sexy, would be rightly entertained.

Here’s where the thought experiment comes in. This is where it gets really uncomfortable. Watch the scene above once as you usually would. You don’t need to know the context too much. This is just Black Widow beating up the hired goons of Justin Hammer, the primary antagonist of the movie. Use that first reaction as a baseline of sorts.

Now, watch the scene again. This time, though, reverse all the genders of the characters involved. Make Black Widow a man. Make Justin Hammer’s goons women. Let it play out in your mind, this lone male character beating up all these women. Does the scene evoke the same reaction? For most people not named Chris Brown, it probably makes you sick to your stomach.

This goes beyond the typical double standards between men and women, which I’ve talked about before. It even goes beyond strong female characters, which I’ve also touched on in various ways. This is one of those dynamics that has always been there right in front of us. We just don’t take the time to scrutinize it.

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We can watch scenes of James Bond beating the crap out of a bunch of SPECTRE henchmen and be entertained. We can also watch scenes of Black Widow, Sarah Conner, and Furiosa do the same and be entertained. Swap the genders, though, and it becomes extremely distressing. We don’t see powerful characters kicking ass anymore. We just see a man beating up multiple women.

Find a scene like the one above from “Iron Man 2” and do the same thought experiment. Look for a scene where a woman beats up a much of male thugs. Then, swap the genders. Chances are, the feelings it evokes are just as distressing.

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For a greater sense of context, I came up with this thought experiment after reading an article on Cracked.com about the way Hollywood treats men. I’ve cited Cracked before because and while I don’t always agree with them, they’re good at tackling serious topics in a humorous way, even sexy topics. This one, however, had a hard time being funny.

6 Backwards Ideas Hollywood Still Has About Men

Some parts of the article were more inane than others, like pointing out how every leading man has to be at least a half-foot taller than the average guy or how tortured men are somehow compelling. Some of those details are just quirks, blatant examples of style over substance.

Beyond the quirks, though, there are some genuinely disturbing dynamics at work. We find such entertainment in women beating the crap out of men. We also find entertainment in men beating the crap out of men. However, when it’s men beating the crap out of women, context doesn’t matter. It always makes us feel disgusted and repulsed.

The thought experiment I just posed highlights that. However, it goes beyond violence as well. Rape is one of those super-sensitive issues that’s impossible to make funny or sexy. However, if you put it in the context of prison rape where men rape men, then that somehow changes things, so much so that jokes about rape will even find their way into an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Then, there are the cases where women rape men. Yes, that does happen in real life. Women are capable of domestic violence against men. However, it’s still okay to joke about. Christopher Titus has even worked it into his standup. It even finds its way into cartoons that air on prime-time.

The best example of this is the “Futurama” episode, “Death By Snu Snu.” In that episode, the cast encounters a planet populated by big, hulking, hostile Amazonian women, albeit not of the Wonder Woman variety. Through a series of hilarious antics that are entirely appropriate for a show that has a hard-drinking, sociopath robot, the male characters end up captured.

This is where the line between hilarity and distress blurs if you dare do the same thought experiment. Once captured, the Amazonian women decide to “torment” their prisoners with “snu snu,” which is their alien verbiage for sex. The reaction of Fry and Zap Branigan is a mix of horror and intrigue.

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Granted, it’s presented in a funny way, but that doesn’t change the actual substance of what happens. The women rape these men. They rape them and it’s portrayed as humorous. I’m not going to lie. I did laugh somewhat at how the episode played out. Most people with a healthy sense of humor would.

However, if you do the same thought experiment with the Black Widow scene in “Iron Man 2,” it takes on a very different context. Watch the episode again, but turn the hulking Amazons into men. Then, turn Fry and Zap into women. Suddenly, that scene takes on a much darker undertone.

It would push the line even for the most hardcore porn. Think about how that would play out, a group of warrior men taking a couple of women who just stumbled upon their world and deciding to rape them to death. It wouldn’t just be rated NC-17. It would be outright banned and subject to protest from every women’s group in the world.

What does it say about our attitudes, our culture, and our standards when we’re okay with one gender dynamic and not the other? Now, there are inherent differences in those dynamics. Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species. That means there are inherently different traits within the genders that are impossible to overlook completely.

However, the sheer breadth of the disparity here is cause for concern. If flipping the genders of a story or scene evokes such a different reaction, then that’s a serious disconnect that’s worth scrutinizing.

That’s not to say that the scenes in “Iron Man 2” or “Futurama” are wrong or not entertaining. There’s just something inherently revealing about ourselves when we flip the gender dynamics and react to the same scene. We may not like what that reveals, but it’s not something that can or should be ignored.

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How NOT To Talk About Marriage

Picture a scenario with a man and a woman. No, it’s not one of those scenarios. They’re both fully clothed, in public, and otherwise normal. Then, imagine the kind of outrage/public shaming that would occur if this took place in front of one too many cameras.

Woman: I’m so sad! I’m so lonely! Why does the world so cruel?

Man: Maybe it’s because you’re really fat. Were you abused as a kid or something? Just exercise more or get some surgery.

You feel that? That’s the inescapable urge to roll your eyes because you know what kind of outcry this is going to cause. You know the kind of arguments, insults, rants, and raves that’ll emerge from this topic. Human can be pretty crazy and unpredictable when it comes to certain topics. Topics that involve marriage or gender issues, though, are annoyingly consistent.

So why do I bring up this scenario and the predictable outcry it tends to cause? Well, it was inspired, in large part, by a video I came across recently. It involves a small talk show discussing recent trends in marriage, namely why men are more and more reluctant to get married.

I’ve talked about this issue before, namely the part where the legal system gives men and women one too many tools to screw each other over and not in the way they enjoy. I generally avoid talking about it because it tends to make people less horny, which isn’t good for any erotica/romance writer. However, sometimes I do feel compelled to comment on something that feels overly relevant.

With that in mind, here is the clip in question. To get to the part that really annoyed me, fast forward to the 2:20 mark. I should warn you though. You may feel the urge to punch your computer screen.

Did you see it? Is your computer screen still intact? Are you confused as to why someone who is single, in his 30s, and worried about his romantic future would feel uneasy with this exchange? Well, let me break it down in a way that I hope won’t cost anyone a new computer screen.

The argument the man in the clip makes is not a new one. They’ve been made before, the pitfalls of marriage and the reasons men aren’t too eager to participate. In fact, Fox built one of its most successful sitcoms about the ills of marriage and what it does to men. These are not new issues is what I’m saying.

Even so, there’s still this imbalance of sorts between men and women when it comes to the decline of marriage. There’s still a stigma against those who are reluctant to join an institution that has become exceedingly unjust for legal, political, and social reasons that are too complicated and unsexy to get into.

That stigma, however, doesn’t apply to both genders equally. I know this because I’ve actually felt this inequality to some extent. It plays out like this:

  • You’re a woman and you don’t want to get married? You go girl! You don’t need a man! You just need to be you! Girl power!

  • You’re a man and you don’t want to get married? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you gay or something? What kind of creep stays single all his life?

See the difference? The clip itself doesn’t do justice to the extent of this difference, but the man does get crap for making these arguments. When he calmly and reasonably lays out his arguments, the first response isn’t to take them seriously or ask more questions. The response is, “Were you hurt?”

To the man’s credit, he laughs it off. That shows he has more maturity and self-awareness than 95 percent of the people I see on talk shows these days. It’s still a very telling assessment though, assuming outright that the man is criticizing marriage was somehow hurt in the past.

Even as a man who does want to find love and does want to marry someone, I find that pretty insulting. I get that marriage has rarely, if ever, been an equal institution. I get that for most of human civilization, women had it pretty rough with respect to marriage. I’m not denying that.

However, if I’ve learned anything from all the superhero comics I’ve read over the years, it’s that you can’t fight injustice with more injustice. That’s like trying to fight a wildfire with napalm. It’s only going to make the situation worse.

At the moment, marriage is not a good deal for men. At the moment, women have more legal and social protections with respect to marriage then men. Women can divorce their husbands whenever they want for whatever reason and, in many states, get half their husband’s assets by default. They can get custody of kids, get favorable treatment by courts, and are more readily believed with accusations of spousal abuse.

Now I’m not Al Bundy in that I see marriage as its own circle of hell for a man. I believe marriage, love, and all the passion that comes with it is a beautiful thing. The problem is that our assumptions, legal traditions, and social constructs are horribly imbalanced at the moment. It’s only when marriage becomes a relationship of true equals that its beauty can be appreciated.

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