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Purpose, Value, And The Suicide Gender Gap

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There are few subjects more depressing and tragic than suicide. It’s not a topic people like to talk about. When people take their own lives, either out of sorrow or desperation, it’s terrible. It leaves deep, painful scars on friends and loved ones.

However, it’s because suicide is such a difficult subject that people should talk about it. Before I go any further, I want to urge anyone who might be feeling deeply depressed or suicidal to seek help. The suicide hotline is always available. Please, if you’re feeling that hopeless, call 1-800-273-8255. As someone who has had depressing stretches in life, I urge others in a crisis to seek connection.

Unfortunately, it’s not a connection that people are making these days. According to the American Psychological Association, there was a 30 percent increase in death by suicides from 2000 to 2016. It was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2016. By the numbers, we haven’t seen rates like this since the Great Depression.

There are a great many depressing and tragic factors behind this rise. The ongoing opioid crisis is certainly a factor. A few researchers have cited the influence of social media as contributing to self-destructive behavior. Like mass shootings, everyone has their theories, criticisms, and solutions to the crisis. I’m of the opinion that human beings are too complex to boil it down to something simple.

I agree that in certain cases, opioid addiction can factor into someone committing suicide.

I agree that in certain cases, the use and influence of social media can factor into someone committing suicide.

That’s not to say they’re the cause of it. They’re just small trees in a much larger forest that’s difficult to see, given the heavy emotions involved in this topic. However, I do believe it’s possible to see that bigger picture. To do so, it’s necessary to highlight one particular trend in suicide that also happens to be tied with gender politics.

While suicide is tragic, regardless of gender, there exists an unusual paradox within the data. Women have been shown to attempt and contemplate suicide more than men, but men are still the ones dying at greater rates. It’s not a trivial gap, either. Men are more than three times as likely to commit suicide compared to women.

This indicates there are factors beyond depression, stress, and mental illness. There are other forces at work here and they’re affecting men more than women. What that is and how it works is difficult to surmise. However, speaking as a man who has seen other men endure depressing situations, I believe there are certain factors that gender politics compounds.

At the core of these factors are an individual’s sense of purpose and value. There are many terrible things running through the mind of someone who is suicidal, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that people who feel suicidal often feel their lives lack purpose and value. There’s nothing left for them to contribute. There’s no value for them to provide. Without that, what’s the point?

It sounds like the kind of sentiment that should affect men and women equally. Depression and despair, after all, know no gender. However, there are a few confounding factors for men. For one, there’s still a significant taboo for men who admit to even having such feelings. It stems from the same taboo about men showing emotions, in general. It’s seen as a form of weakness and men aren’t allowed to be weak.

To understand the implications of that taboo, consider the following scenario.

A man is sitting by himself. He’s crying uncontrollably. He’s sad, depressed, and lonely. He feels like he has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to him lament about his sorrow. They offer sympathy, but tell him he needs to toughen up and get his act together. He just needs to grit his teeth and push forward with his life.

For most people, this scenario isn’t that unrealistic. Most decent human beings will show sympathy when they see someone suffering, male or female. However, the gender of the person suffering does have an impact. I’ve explained before how and why society places a greater emphasis on protecting women’s bodies over those of men.

Even if you discount the extent of that influence, the implications are still clear. We see a depressed man and tell him to fight through it. If he needs to be coddled or treated, then that’s a failure on his part. If he’s that weak, then he has little value to offer. Without value, he has little purpose as well. In essence, he has to prove he’s somehow useful to warrant not killing himself.

Now, consider this scenario.

A woman is sitting by herself. She’s crying uncontrollably. She’s sad, depressed, and lonely. She feels like she has nothing to live for. Someone walks by and shows concern. They listen to her about her sorrow. They offer sympathy and encourage her to find professional help. They even offer contacts and connections. She’s suffering and there are people willing to help her.

Take note of the different approach in this scenario. The person still show sympathy and compassion, as most human beings are wired to do. Where they diverge is in the assumptions surrounding the woman’s distress.

For her, it’s not something she can tough her way through. She’s not expected to just grit her teeth, pull herself out of this deep pit, and move beyond whatever is making her so upset. She’s suffering and the first instinct is to get her some meaningful help. Her life has inherent value. Her just being alive is sufficient to give her purpose.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of that assumption. It’s an assumption that many men feel like they don’t get. Their suffering is seen as a personal failure. A woman’s suffering is seen as a systemic failure that needs fixing. It perfectly reflects one of Chris Rock’s most memorable quotes.

“Only women, children, and dogs get loved unconditionally. A man is only loved under the condition that he provides something.”

In the context of suicide, men who don’t provide anything have no value. Absent that value, they have no purpose for existing. The source of this disparity is difficult to pin down. Some of it is cultural. Most data shows that when people live in a society with high social cohesion and abundant career opportunities, suicide is low.

That makes intuitive sense. Those social bonds provide purpose. Those opportunities provide value. When people have both, they’re less likely to be depressed. Even if they are, they have a support system that’s there to help them, regardless of their gender or disposition. These bonds are harder to maintain for men because they have to provide something.

Even though women may contemplate or attempt suicide more frequently, the current makeup of society and gender norms provides them with any number of affirmations to remind them of their value. If nothing else, it gives women a moment of pause. Most men don’t get that moment. It’s truly tragic, but it’s a tragedy that gender politics does plenty to compound.

Again, if you are feeling suicidal, regardless of your gender, please take this as my personal plea to seek help. It’s okay to do so. Your life has value. Your life has purpose. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need to talk. People will listen. People will give you a chance. Whatever the disparities may be, let’s not add to the tragedy.

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John Oliver, Sex Dolls, And The (Unwarranted) Shaming Of Lonely Men

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There’s a general rule in comedy with respect to insults. If you’re going to demean, denigrate, or make fun of a particular person or group, you don’t want to punch down. Granted, you can do it. You can even get a few laughs out of it if you do it well and are exceptionally funny. However, in the grand scheme of things, you’re still an asshole.

It’s the main reason why comedians, be they stand-up comics or talk show hosts, generally direct their insults at the rich, powerful, and privileged. There’s a general understanding that if you’re doing well in this chaotic game of life, either through luck or talent, you can afford to take a few insults. At the end of the day, you can still go home and cry into a pile of money, fame, and affluence.

When you insult a group that has none of those things in any abundance, it’s usually not something people respect, even if they laugh. It’s why even great comedians like George Carlin had to be very careful and exceptionally skilled when he joked about rape.

We miss you, George. We miss you SO much.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be as funny or talented as George Carlin. Sometimes, insult comedy hits an undeserving target. It tends to reveal something about the comedian delivering the insult and where society is, in terms of sympathies. It’s often subtle, but the subtext is there and it has larger implications.

That brings me to John Oliver, the nerdy smart-ass British comedian who owes 95 percent of his fame to John Stewart. His show, “Last Week Tonight,” has won multiple Emmy awards and has garnered substantial praise for its colorful approach to tackling major issues, from the abortion debate to annoying robocalls to the flaws in standardized testing.

While I don’t agree with Mr. Oliver’s politics all the time or his approach to tackling certain issues, I consider myself a fan of his show. Compared to other satirical comedy shows, he tends to strike just the right balance between quality comedy and tackling serious issues.

However, he recently took a comedic jab that deviated from his usual style and not in a good way. It occurred during his episode that focused on China’s controversial One Child Policy. It’s an issue that has been subject to plenty of controversy for years and I think Mr. Oliver was right to talk about it.

One of the major consequences of this policy, which Mr. Oliver rightly pointed out, was how it led to a massive gender population imbalance. Due to a historic preference for sons, there are millions more men than women in China. The disparity is so great that it has caused major social upheavals.

While discussing some of those upheavals, the issue of sex dolls came up. In a country where there are so many lonely men, it makes sense that they would seek some form of outlet and it helps that the market of sex dolls is growing. This is where Mr. Oliver did a little punching down and, unlike his jabs at New Zealand, this didn’t have the same impact. See for yourself in this clip.

Take a moment to consider what he’s joking about here. There are millions of men in China who, through no fault of their own, are likely doomed to a life of loneliness. It’s not because they’re bad men. They’re not creepy, cruel, or misogynistic. They’re just at the mercy of math and demographics. There simply aren’t enough women in their country.

For these men, the old saying that there’s plenty of fish in the sea is an outright lie. Their options are limited and Mr. Oliver is making light of that. He essentially claims that men who use sex dolls are somehow even more pathetic and destined for more loneliness. He makes that claim as someone who is married, has a child, and doesn’t have to deal with those prospects.

It’s not just bad comedy. It’s hypocritical. Earlier in that same clip, he showed sympathy and understanding to a Chinese woman who was forced to have an abortion against her will. He’s shown similar sympathy to people in other situations, from women dealing with restrictive abortion laws to prisoners who had been screwed over by an unfair justice system.

Why would he show no sympathy for these lonely men?

Moreover, why would he make a joke about it?

To some extent, it’s not all on him. There is an egregious double standard when it comes to men who use sex toys. A woman can walk into a sex shop, buy a vibrator, and talk about using it without too much stigma. Sure, there will be a few repressive, sex-negative religious zealots who will complain about anything that gives anyone unsanctioned pleasure, but most people don’t take them seriously.

For men, however, there’s a taboo surrounding the use of sex toys in any capacity. Some of that comes from men more than women. There’s this not-so-subtle assumption that a man who needs a sex toy is somehow less manly. Any man who has to resort to one must be somehow deficient. It can’t just be that he’s lonely or wants to use new tools to please his lover. That would make too much sense.

For the men in China, and other areas where there’s a huge gender disparity, the situation is even worse. These are men who are facing both loneliness and sexual frustration. There’s more than a little evidence that this is not healthy for them on any level. That’s not to say that sex dolls or sex toys will help fill that void, but it will give them an outlet, just as a vibrator gives a lonely woman an outlet.

Unlike a lonely woman, though, these men can’t expect much sympathy. As Mr. Oliver demonstrates, they can expect plenty of shame and stigma. It doesn’t matter that they can’t do anything about their situation. They’re victims of circumstance, demographics, and basic math. Adding stigma and taboo to the mix is akin to kicking them in the balls on the worst day of their lives.

I won’t say that Mr. Oliver should apologize for his remark. He’s a comedian. He’s a citizen in a free country. He can say what he wants. However, the fact that he can joke about lonely men and still get a laugh says a lot about the current attitudes towards lonely men, in general.

We know they’re suffering. We know there’s not much they can do about it, especially in places like China. While we’ll give plenty of sympathy to the lonely women who resort to using sex toys, we’ll stick to shaming and stigmatizing the men who dare to do the same. Then, we’ll pretend to be surprised when they get angry and resentful.

Is that fair? No, it isn’t.

Is that funny? No, I argue that it’s not, especially with the way Mr. Oliver went about it.

He’s no George Carlin. He’s no John Stewart, either. In this particular case, he’s just an asshole.

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Five Common Expectations Of Men That I Would Change

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I love being a man. I’ll go on record as saying I appreciate masculinity and its many values. While masculinity in general has gotten a bad rap in recent years, albeit for absurd reasons, there are many things to enjoy and admire. At their best, good men can achieve great things and effect positive change in the world.

I’ll also go on record as saying that appreciating masculinity does not require that we undermine femininity. That really should go without saying, but in these sensitive times, it’s too easy for mixed messages to go viral. Saying men are good is not the same as saying women are bad or vice versa. That’s just common sense and I genuinely wish it were more common.

Now, that’s not to say being a man is all fun, games, and fart jokes. It does have its share of downsides and I’m not just referring to the biological part of it. Yes, getting kicked in the balls really hurts. Yes, sweating and smelling more often can be annoying. Those aspects of masculinity simply come with the package.

There are other, less concrete ways in which being a man can be frustrating. They have less to do with hormones and more to do with certain expectations. I’ve explored some of those expectations with respect to how men pursue love and the egregious double standards by which men are judged.

Others far smarter than me have discussed some of the bigger issues surrounding how men are treated in modern society, from attitudes about how disposable they are to how sexual assault against them is treated like a joke. Those are serious, legitimate issues that certainly warrant further discussion.

There are also smaller, less-obvious expectations of men that I are just as asinine and are worth changing. They’re necessarily stereotypes or cultural traditions. They’re just subtle norms that rarely get scrutinized. I think, in the name of pursuing greater balance and equality for everyone, these lesser-known aspects of being a man should be part of the discussion.

What follows are five subtle, but common expectations about men that I would like to change or at least reconsider. Some are just standard norms while others reflect certain attitudes and practices. I realize that some are harder to change than others, but they’re worth acknowledging. If anyone has something they’d like to add to this list, please let me know in the comments.


Expectation #1: Having To Wearing A Suit (Even In Blazing Heat)

I look good in a suit. Distinguished men who wear well-made suits are often seen as the pinnacle of male fashion. It’s why you’ll rarely see James Bond fight nameless henchmen in anything less fashionable than imported Armani. While I’m all for men looking good, I feel like men’s choices for high-quality fashion are really limited.

This is especially true in the summer when men are still required to wear suits while women can wear equally fashionable, but far more functional dresses and blouses. I enjoy wearing a suit as much as any fashion-minded man, but it’s downright unbearable when it’s hot. You don’t even have to be outside to feel it. Just being a building with bad air conditioner is enough.

I’m no fashion expert, but I feel like the emphasis on suits for men is over-emphasized. Women’s fashion is more diverse and offers greater flexibility for certain occasions. I acknowledge that some of that fashion is also uncomfortable and impractical. Why should anyone suffer that much for the sake of looking good?

I know there’s only so much anyone can do to change fashion trends, but a little innovation in the field of men’s formal attire would definitely help. At the very least, just having clothes that make summer heat more bearable for everyone will help everyone be more comfortable.


Expectation #2: Not Going To A Doctor (Even When We Should)

In my experience, men not going to a doctor is part stereotype and part attitude. There are more than a few taboos surrounding men’s collective aversion of doctors. Whether it’s due to male bravado or just the underlying assumption that men don’t need doctors as much as women, I think this expectation does more harm than good.

I say that as someone who has been guilty of avoiding doctor visits in the past. At one point, it caused me genuine pain because I refused to go to a doctor for what I thought was just allergies. It turned out I had a bad case of strep throat that I made considerably worse by not going sooner. I don’t care what your gender is. When some expectations lead to needless suffering, they’re worth re-evaluating.

With people, in general, becoming more health conscious, I think the time is right for men to embrace going to the doctor with the same care as women. It’ll won’t just help men become healthier, overall. It’ll help affirm that men’s suffering deserves to be treated with just as much urgency as that of women.


Expectation #3: Taking Less Time Off And Working More Overtime

This is one of those unwritten rules that really ought to be articulated more frequently. Whatever your professional field, be it construction, law, or flipping burgers, there will be times when overtime is necessary. In my experience, which I freely admit is anecdotal, I get the impression that men are expected to bear that burden first and without question.

That’s not to say that women avoid overtime. I know many women who put in longer hours at their jobs than their male co-workers. There’s just a general assumption that a man is going to do more of it and if he doesn’t, then there’s something wrong with him.

The same goes for taking time off. Most people don’t seem to bat an eye when a woman asks for a few days off. They won’t even ask why. If a man makes a similar request, it raises more curiosity and he’s expected to justify it. Again, this isn’t the case everywhere, but even without bringing maternity leave into the mix, men are just expected to work more and work longer.

Some of these expectations are more pronounced in the United States where paid parental leave is not mandated by law. In general, workers in the United States take less time off and work longer than other industrialized countries, which further compounds the issue. Even with regional differences, the attitude about men having to bear a greater work burden is worth reassessing.

After all, I think everyone would benefit by having more time off and not overworking themselves regularly. It’s better for everyone at every level of society.


Expectation #4: Always Knowing What A Lover Likes (Without Having To Ask)

It’s a common fantasy for horny women, but men are just as guilty of fueling it. A woman meets a handsome man. Sparks fly and things get intimate. As soon as the clothes come off, everything happens naturally and perfectly. The man knows just how to please her and he gives her the best lovemaking of her life.

It makes for a great sexy story. I’ve written more than a few of them. While it’s a great fantasy, it obscures a less sexy reality in which men aren’t mind-readers. It doesn’t matter how attractive or naturally endowed a man might be. He’s not going to know exactly how his partner wants to be pleased, by default. They have to actually communicate.

It sounds so logical, but fantasy often fuels those lofty expectations. I’ve known women who get downright frustrated when their boyfriend doesn’t do exactly what they want in bed to satisfy them, but admit they’ve never actually told them. They’ll often drop hints. They’ll even be playful about it. If a man asks for too many specifics, though, then something must be wrong with him.

As a fan of romance and intimacy, I’m very much in favor of lovers enjoying a satisfying sex life. However, the idea that a man should automatically know what satisfies their partner is just not fair. It’s true that some men really don’t know how women’s bodies work, but it’s also true that everyone is different in terms of what pleases them. Nobody is going to be satisfied if nobody communicates.

Again, it’s just common sense that misguided expectations do plenty to complicate. I can attest that most men want to satisfy their lovers. Anything that helps us do that is always welcome.


Expectation #5: Needing To Yell In Order To Be Serious

For certain people, yelling might as well a local dialect. Like Frank Murphy going off on a profanity-laced rant, it might as well be casual conversation. However, for the non-Frank Murphys of the world, there are certain expectations about people who yell and it feels like men have to start the race behind the curve.

I’ve seen in in personal and professional settings. A man will make an argument, but it’s not considered serious. If a woman made the same argument, it’s given more weight. There’s an assumption that if a woman brings it up, then it must be a major issue. It only reaches that same level for a man if he’s willing to yell his case.

To some extent, it’s a double standard. A woman yelling angrily is treated as an aberration while a man yelling with the same anger is just standard operating procedure. At the same time, a man who doesn’t yell or show some kind of escalated anger carries its own set of assumptions. Men have to be angry for it to be serious and if they’re not yelling, it must not be serious.

It often happens during debates about hot-button topics. It can even happen in a simple argument about pizza toppings. There are plenty of important issues that warrant yelling, but I believe expecting one gender to yell more than another only compounds those issues.

We live in a flawed world full of flawed people. Sometimes, we have to temper our expectations. In others, we try to hold one another to a higher standard. Men and women yell at one another enough for trivial reasons. We’re never going to stop yelling. At the very least, we should play by the same rules.

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How Smiling Became A Feminist Issue (For Terrible Reasons)

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What would you think of someone who randomly walked up to you, sensed you looked sad, and suggested something that is scientifically proven to make you feel better? The person doesn’t force it on you. They don’t offer their advice to be smug or facetious. They just see a fellow human in distress and offer to help. By nearly every measure, the person is being a compassionate, decent human being.

Now, having contemplated that scenario, what would you think of a man who walked up to a woman and asked her to smile? While some might not see that as too big a deal, it has become a serious issue in recent years. It may not be the most absurd since it doesn’t involve Wonder Woman’s armpit hair, but it’s still up there.

The scenario I just described is something that, from a purely superficial level, may not seem controversial. Telling someone to smile, regardless of whether they’re a man or a woman, is not just an empty platitude. There is real, legitimate science behind it.

Research has shown that the mere act of smiling has many health benefits, such as improving mood, relieving stress, and strengthening immune function. To some extent, it helps rewire our brain in a way that directly combats depression, anxiety, and all sorts of ailments. It might be the easiest thing anyone can do to feel better. If it were a drug, it would be hailed as a medical breakthrough.

Why then has smiling become such a point of contention? While linking it to sexism is full of many absurdities, there are legitimate grievances that helped make this an issue. I know I’m going to upset people when I talk about this, but I believe it’s worth talking discussing, if only to preserve the benefits of smiling.

From the perspective of those protesting being told to smile, many of which identify as feminists or left-leaning, the issue isn’t about those aforementioned benefits. It’s about people telling them to be happy in a world where they don’t feel like equals. Considering how unequal things were for women throughout history, that’s an understandable sentiment.

Plenty of inequality lingers.

The situation for these women didn’t involve kind strangers walking up to them when they were sad and telling them to smile. It likely involved bosses, spouses, teachers, and various authority figures telling them to smile because frowning wasn’t lady-like. Even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, it’s easy to see why that would seem condescending.

In some situations, it was even worse. In service jobs, which are often dominated by women, telling them to smile is like asking them to act as a billboard for an organization. They’re treated as a pretty face rather than a person. It’s the male equivalent of being treated as a cog in an assembly line.

That sort of treatment is dehumanizing and people, regardless of gender, resent that and for good reason. In that context, telling a woman to smile is no different than telling her to just shut up and accept everything the way it is, no matter how much she resents it. While that’s rarely the intent, that’s the interpretation.

Most reasonable people can and do acknowledge the sentiments that women feel in those situations. Nobody likes being told to just smile and accept your misery. However, the issue descends into absurdity when telling someone to smile is famed as a byproduct of sexism. It effectively politicizes the very concept of smiling.

As a result, it fosters this idea that a woman cannot smile and be feminist. It’s an idea that has become more mainstream in recent years. To see how, just Google “modern feminist” and look at the images that come up. Very few of the faces that come up are smiling. There’s no Rosie the Riveter. There’s only angry, outraged women yelling to the point where it’s a common meme.

This isn’t just an issue with respect to the popular perception of feminists. When it comes to faces, there’s a great deal of intrinsic biology and neuroscience at work. Seeing an angry face triggers a very different reaction compared to seeing a smiling face. Some of that reaction transcends even extends to other species.

There are also significant differences in how people react to smiling men compared to smiling women. The extent to which that difference is biological is not clear, but unlike many other behavioral traits, smiling is directly tied to many psychological and physiological forces. Tying smiling to ongoing debates about gender is one nobody can win. Like it or not, you can’t debate around biology.

Then, there’s the other side of the gender equation, specifically the one regarding the male perspective. While this perspective is less obvious, it does add some other complexities that often fall through the cracks during these arguments. This is where I can offer some perspective, as a man, because I can attest to this impact.

Whatever you think about the nature of masculinity, it’s a well-documented fact that male brains are wired differently compared to female brains. One of those differences stems from how we react to women in distress. Whether they’re angry or sad, seeing it can trigger that protective instinct that men often feel around women.

I can attest that this instinct is real. A few years back, I was walking down the boardwalk at a beach. It was a loud, rowdy place in the middle of summer so there was plenty of noise. Then, out of nowhere, I heard this woman scream. Almost immediately, I turned towards it and I wasn’t the only one. Several other men, as well as a few women, took notice as well.

The woman had badly hurt herself on her bicycle. I’d rather not describe the injury so I’ll just say she couldn’t stand on her left leg. Thankfully, she was with a couple of friends and they immediately aided her. However, her cries caught the attention of plenty of men, most of them total strangers.

While some with more cynical attitudes may think of that reaction as white knighting, I can assure you it’s a real phenomenon. Men sensing a woman in distress evokes a reaction that stems directly from our natural inclination to form social bonds and protect others. Since women are the ones who bear the babies, we tend to give them extra scrutiny.

That’s not to say that a man telling a woman to smile is always an altruistic act. It doesn’t overlook the situations in which someone uses that rhetoric to denigrate women and make light of the issues they face. However, if the simple act of smiling becomes part of the line that divides feminists from misogynists, then the entire debate surrounding gender becomes obscure.

Telling a woman to smile is not the same as telling her to get back in the kitchen. In addition, making outrage the face of female empowerment won’t help in addressing legitimate issues. It’ll just frame every discussion as something hostile and unreasonable. No matter how legitimate the issues are, it’s difficult to have a meaningful discussion in that situation.

Objectively speaking, smiling is good for you, regardless of gender. It’s something I encourage everyone to do when they’re feeling upset, depressed, or angry. It’s a small gesture and one that doesn’t solve problem, in and of itself.

However, it can help your in many ways, especially if you’re hoping to connect with others in a way that ensures they’ll listen. There are many issues surrounding men, women, and gender that are worth discussing. Making the act of smiling a rallying cry for gender conflicts will only ensure that nobody succeeds in the long run.

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Gender Politics, Military Conscription, And Why It Matters

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When it comes to gender politics, there are certain issues that come to mind and others that slip under the radar. These days, the most newsworthy issues involve things like diversity in popular media, discrimination in certain social spheres, attitudes within certain sub-cultures, and patterns of harassment.

I’ve explored some of these issues in the past, but only when I feel like there’s relevant discussion worth having. The problem with the issues that slip under the radar is that they rarely make headlines, which helps them persist. Even when a headline finally does come along, it’s difficult to discuss because most people aren’t aware of it and haven’t contemplated the implications.

A good example is military conscription. If you live in America, Canada, or Western Europe and are under the age of 40, chances are you haven’t given it a moment’s thought. Conscription, or the draft as it’s commonly known, is one of those institutions that just isn’t as relevant as it used to be. Considering how much war, in general, has declined in the past 50 years, that’s understandable.

However, it’s still relevant in the sense that it reflects old attitudes about society, war, and gender roles. These attitudes are rarely scrutinized, even among feminists, conservatives, liberals, and egalitarians. Now, thanks to recent developments in the courts, this might be a good time to discuss this often-overlooked issue.

If you’re an adult, able-bodied man, then this issue affects you. It has already affected me and almost every other man older than 18 years of age because that’s the age when we had to sign up for the Selective Service System. In doing so, we gave the government the information and discretion to draft us into military service, should the need arrive.

Make no mistake. This is not akin to getting a driver’s license or a social security card. By signing up for the Selective Service System, a sizable chunk of the male population is agreeing to go to war whenever their government decides to conscript them. It’s not a formality, nor is it done out of patriotism either.

Every man has had to learn what this emblem means.

It’s not just because doing so is necessary to access federal programs like student loans, job training, and Pell Grants. Failure to sign up for Selective Service is a felony, punishable by hefty fines and prison time. Logistically speaking, this is an issue in which consent truly doesn’t matter. Men have to do this. They are as subject to conscription as they are to paying taxes.

It’s one of the few issues in which the gender divide is clear cut. Men must permit the government to conscript them into military service. Women do not. While women are still free to join the military and enjoy its many benefits, they ultimately have a choice that men don’t. In the event of a war that requires conscription, they won’t be forced to join the fight.

Whether you’re a pacifist, egalitarian, or a radical feminist, this issue should matter because it has significant implications. It’s frequently cited as a case of male disposability and for good reason. The fact that only men must sign up for conscription implies that society is comfortable sending them to the front lines of a war. It affirms that we’re okay with men being brutalized, but not women, a double standard I’ve explored before.

While there are many historical reasons for this, ranging from ancient warrior cultures to evolutionary factors to the pragmatism of protecting the gender that bears the babies, those reasons don’t carry as much weight anymore. Most countries, including the United States, rely on a voluntary service system and several decades of civil rights movements have made gender discrimination illegal.

However, the Selective Service System managed to escape all these changes until very recently. In February 2019, a federal court issued a groundbreaking ruling that concluded the Military Selective Service Act was unconstitutional. This quote from the ruling nicely sums up the reasoning behind that ruling.

In short, while historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now “similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft.”

While it’s likely that this ruling will be contested, it does provide an opportunity for a more nuanced discussion. Most debates regarding gender tend to focus on areas where women and transgender individuals face discrimination and marginalization. These debates have certainly made their share of headlines, but military conscription is unique in its impact on men.

That might be part of the reason why conscription rarely arises in a gender debate, but with this ruling, the time is right to address it. There’s no denying the discrimination here. Men are being forced to do something at the behest of their government and women are not. This issue reflects a major disparity, but it’s also an opportunity.

Even though military conscription hasn’t been practiced in the United States for several decades, it has already played a significant role in shaping society. A big reason why the civil rights movement made so much progress in the 1950s and 1960s is because conscription required people of various races and backgrounds to work together. In many respects, the structure of the military was a huge equalizer.

This is nicely depicted in the opening scenes of “Full Metal Jacket.” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman made it abundantly clear to every recruit that there’s no discrimination in his unit. Your race, ethnicity, and background didn’t matter in the slightest. In a war, it can’t matter. It’s a powerful message that many soldiers brought back with them.

The face of true unity.

That sort of message has never been applied to gender in the United States. It’s not unprecedented, though. There are a number of countries that have mandatory military service for both men and women. Israel, one of America’s closest allies, is one of them. While they tend to serve different roles, the fact that they’re subject to the same obligations as men sends a powerful message.

It doesn’t just show in the status that women have in Israel have, especially when compared to other neighboring nations. It establishes equal expectations for women and men, alike. In a system where everyone is held to a similar standard when defending their country, it’s harder to justify discrimination.

That has significant implications for the United States in wake of the ruling. Either the Selective Service System must be thrown out entirely or women must be subject to the same requirements. As recently as 2016, Congress debated the idea of including women in the system, but it did not pass. The fact that it sparked few protests is revealing, in and of itself.

By not acting through legislation, the courts are forcing the issue. The Justice Department is already opposing the ruling by claiming that requiring women to register for the draft is “particularly problematic.” That’s somewhat ironic, given that similar rhetoric is used when feminists criticize video game characters for being too sexy.

Despite that rhetoric, it’s just as telling that there are few protests surrounding this statement. The same protesters who marched in Washington DC back in 2017 have been relatively silent in how the government views gender disparity with respect to military conscription. This isn’t a right. It’s a responsibility and one that can unify a society full of diverse people.

To some extent, it’s understandable why those same protesters don’t argue for the same standards with respect to military conscription. Unlike Israel, the United States and most western countries don’t have mandatory military service and the draft hasn’t been utilized in 40 years. For most people, it doesn’t directly affect them.

However, that might also make it the perfect issue for unifying people from both ends of gender issues. If feminists and men’s rights activists are serious about equality in terms of the law and societal standards, then military conscription is a clear-cut issue that they can both rally behind. Either you’re for equality or you’re not. At the very least, it would be helpful to know who’s not.

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How Overturning Roe v. Wade Can (And Probably Will) Backfire

unintended-consequences

As much as I dislike talking about abortion, I don’t deny that I’ve written more about it in the past year than I have since I started this website. I know that sends mixed messages, but I feel there are valid reasons for that.

I watch the news too, although never on a full stomach. I see the same thing everyone else sees with respect to the increasingly tenuous state of abortion rights. With each passing year, more and more restrictions are placed on abortion. As other parts of the world liberalize their laws, the United States is going in the opposite direction.

Now, in wake of shake-ups on the Supreme Court, it’s more likely than ever that Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, will be overturned. While I don’t think it’s guaranteed, I do think it’s possible. If I had to put betting odds on it, I would say that there’s a 50/50 chance that Roe v. Wade could be overturned by 2024.

If that happens, there are many implications. Many people who are more informed on this issue have already articulated as such. Making abortion illegal could lead to more unwanted pregnancy, increases in crime, increases in poverty, and serious health risks for women seeking back-alley abortions.

We’re already seeing some of these impacts play out in states where abortion is severely restricted. Several states have imposed so many restrictions that they’re down to only one abortion clinic. Due to these burdens, the impact on women, especially those who are poor, has been exceedingly harsh.

Those impacts are likely to intensify if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but I don’t want to get into that part of the issue. I also don’t want to focus on the legal issues, since I’m not a lawyer. Instead, I want to focus on unintended consequences.

I know that the anti-abortion crowd has this Utopian vision of a world after Roe v. Wade. They have this dream that the Supreme Court will overrule the 1973 decision and shortly after, every state will outlaw the procedure. They’ll throw a parade. They’ll proclaim to the world that they won.

Suddenly, women can no longer end an unwanted pregnancy. As a result, they have to start carrying their pregnancies to term. This will force the women, the men who impregnated them, and their families to take responsibility for their actions. They can no longer be sexually promiscuous. They now have to temper their behavior and live more restrained lives.

While nobody can predict the future, I can say without reservation that this dream will not come true. Human nature is never that simple, especially when it comes to law. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion. It will not make women carry more pregnancies to term. It will not lead to a society consistent with Pat Roberston’s values.

That’s because there’s one law that no court can ever overturn and that’s the law of unintended consequences. Make no mistake. There will be unintended consequences for overturning Roe v. Wade, many of which I doubt the anti-abortion movement has contemplated.

What follows are several unintended consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade that will make the anti-abortion crowd cringe. Whether they oppose abortion for religious reasons or for ethical reasons, these are consequences that will do more than taint that abortion-free fever dream of theirs. At the very least, I hope it gives those who oppose abortion a moment of pause.


Consequence #1: Abortion Will Become More Common (And Harder To Protest)

Remember when the United States banned marijuana and shortly after that, it disappeared? Neither do I because not only did that not happen, the exact opposite occurred. Marijuana has been illegal for nearly a century in the United States and it’s more popular now than it was in the days before “Refer Madness.”

Abortion is not like illicit drugs, but it’s subject to similar influences. In the same way making drugs illegal didn’t make them go away, making abortion illegal won’t make it disappear. It’ll only send it into the depths of the underground economy where the red tape that helps regulate the procedure doesn’t exist.

The history of “back alley abortions” is already well-documented. On top of that, these locations are not clinics where people can gather and protest. That’s what happens when you send something into the shadows. It’s harder to see, study, and scrutinize. In that environment, abortion won’t just become more dangerous. It may become more common because the traditional barriers for entry aren’t there.

If you think that seems like a stretch, just consider the choices involving marijuana. Would you rather try to sneak into a liquor store with security cameras or buy it in a dark alley from someone who has just as much incentive to avoid cops?


Consequence #2: Organized Religion’s Decline Will Accelerate

Even though the influence of religion remains strong, the steady decline of religion is well-documented. This is especially true among the younger generations who are more educated and informed than any generation before them. As a result, they will notice when religious groups take credit for banning abortion.

While those same groups often present themselves as saving babies, that’s not how everyone else will see it. We already live in a world where every racist, misogynistic, theocracy-loving sermon is captured on the internet. The same people who are becoming less religious will have even more reason to resent organized religion.

They won’t see the religiously-motivated, anti-abortion crusaders as holy people who saved innocent babies. They’ll see those people the same way we see those who used religion to justify slavery and racial segregation. Unlike previous years, being non-religious isn’t nearly as taboo and for organizations that rely heavily on adherents giving them money, that’s a big problem.


Consequence #3: An Entire Political Party Will Become The Anti-Woman Party

In the same way banning abortion could accelerate organized religion’s decline, a sizable chunk of the political spectrum could take a similar hit. In the United States, it’s primarily conservatives who oppose abortion and frequently side with religious institutions. They too probably see banning abortion as protecting innocent babies.

Again, that’s not how others will see it. Instead, an emerging generation will see conservatives as the party that put a gun to the head of every pregnant woman and demanded that she endure nine months of bodily rigor to have a child she may not be able to afford. Since women vote and make up half the population, it doesn’t bode well for their ability to win support in the future.

Women already disproportionately lean liberal and banning abortion will likely widen that gap. History shows that it’s hard for any party to overcome those gaps and stay in power. As I’ve noted before, this already played out in the 1960s in Romania. Conservatives would be wise to heed that lesson because that did not end well for the communist party and its leader.


Consequence #4: More Advanced Contraceptives Will Emerge Faster (For Women And Men)

One of the most confounding aspects of the anti-abortion movement is how much certain segments of the movement also oppose contraception. It’s downright hypocritical since education and contraceptive use has definitively shown time and again that it’s the most effective way to reduce abortions.

The fact that the anti-abortion crowd so rarely promotes those policies implies that a sizable chunk of that movement is less concerned about babies and more concerned about sex. I’ve tried to distinguish this crowd from the more sincere segments of the movement, but the lines have become more blurred in recent years.

Those lines might become a lot clearer if abortion were banned nationwide because that suddenly makes the contraception market a lot more valuable. At the moment, there isn’t much incentive to improve on the current contraceptives we have. Granted, they’re much more effective than they were before 1973, but there’s still room for improvement.

Without Roe v. Wade, the need for those improvements will be far greater and it won’t just be focused on women. Contraception for men will also get a boost because unlike 1973, there are more laws in place affecting men with issues like child support. For once, men will have to be just as vigilant about avoiding unwanted pregnancy.

This means emerging technology like the male birth control pill and Vasalgel will get a sizable boost in investment. It also means long-term, more-effective birth control like IUDs for women will get a boost as well. When the same anti-abortion crowd starts protesting that, they’ll reveal just how little they cared for babies in the first place.


Consequence #5: Promiscuous Sex Will Increase (For Entirely New Reasons)

This could also be a direct result of the boost contraception research will get from banning abortion. It’s not just because people will have access to more effective contraception, though. This is one of those backlashes that has more to do with social forces than logistical forces.

For those who are sexually active and value their sexual freedom, overturning Roe v. Wade will come off as a direct personal attack. If you’ve been on the internet for more than five minutes, you know people rarely take personal attacks lying down. They’re more likely to fight back and do the exact opposite of what you hope.

In the same way people in a debate double down on their beliefs in a heated argument, those who supported Roe v. Wade will have another reason to engage in the kind of reckless behavior that the anti-abortion crowd hates. To them, it won’t just be a form of protest. It’ll be a form of trolling.

People already have plenty of reasons to have sex just for the fun of it. No government or religious institution has ever been able to stop that and banning abortion certainly won’t do the trick. While it’s true that banning abortion will make promiscuity more dangerous, it’s also true that people are attracted to danger. If it pisses off someone you already despise, then that’s just a bonus.


Consequence #6: Providing Abortion Services Will Become More Lucrative (And Harder To Regulate)

For every unintended consequence, there’s usually a basis in money. Even for issues that are fueled with high emotions and deeply-held beliefs, it often comes back to money. That’s why the drug war can never be won. That’s why Disney will never stop making movies with singing animals. It’s all about the money.

Abortion, in its current form, is not a huge money-making venture. It’s treated like a medical service. However, put it in the same black market as illicit drugs and suddenly, the profit margins go way up. Remove it from the current medical infrastructure and all the regulations that keep it from being profitable go with it.

Instead of skilled, licensed doctors doing this procedure, people with questionable qualifications can get into the mix. On top of that, they can charge as much or as little as they want without the AMA or the FDA condemning them. That’ll make it more dangerous, but if there’s money to be made, it’ll happen.

Remember, making abortion illegal doesn’t make the women seeking abortion disappear. If they’re desperate enough, they’ll brave that danger and they’ll pay that price. Those willing to navigate that danger and exploit those situations will gain the tax-free profit. For the anti-abortion crowd and the government, it’s lose-lose.


Consequence #7: An Entire Generation Will Despise Its Elders (And Their Traditions)

Throughout history, younger generations have rebelled against older generations. You don’t need to single out the hippie generation of the 1960s to see that. Young people and old people have always whined about each other. These days, you can’t go more than five minutes without seeing a story about how Millennials are ruining something we used to love.

With abortion, there is already an established divide. According to Pew, younger generations tend to be more pro-choice than older generations. On top of that, abortion laws are more likely to affect them because they’re still building their lives and they’re going to get horny/lonely along the way.

This same generation is already more accepting of things that older people resent. They’re more accepting of divorce, polyamory, homosexuality, and all sorts of sexual practices that make priests, monks, mullahs, and rabbis gag. It certainly doesn’t help that the people in power deciding these issues are often old men who will never need an abortion. In terms of optics, it’s a pretty ugly sight.

It won’t just stop at young people distancing themselves from organized religion. It won’t stop at distancing themselves from a political party, either. Overall, the emerging generations will see their elders as the ones who stripped them of a right that they got to enjoy all their lives. That doesn’t just paint them in a negative light. It turns their values and traditions into a target.

Young people don’t need many reasons to rebel against their elders, but this is bigger than someone who can’t work a cell phone. This is an issue that affects the ability of an entire generation to make choices about their bodies, their sexuality, and their future. When another generation takes that away from them, it’s going to evoke more than ridicule. It may get pretty damn ugly.


As always, I want to remind everyone that this is just speculation. I can’t predict the future and there’s no telling what other factors may emerge in this exceedingly controversial issue. That said, I still feel comfortable stating that overturning Roe v. Wade will have consequences, many of them unintended. Some will be minor, but some will result in a full-fledged backlash. It’s just a matter of how we’ll deal with them.

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Why Idris Elba’s Advice To Men On The Anti-Harassment Movement Is Flawed

Luther-Idris-Elba-edcf67d

These are tenuous times for gender relations. Between the rise of the anti-harassment movement and the revelation of egregious crimes committed by once-respected celebrities, society is undergoing to significant upheaval in how we approach sex, relationships, and harassment.

Some claim this upheaval is overdue and I don’t disagree. There is a well-documented history of powerful people getting away with egregious behavior. In general, it’s a good thing when society seeks justice and accountability for everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

With that good, however, often comes obstacles that need to be navigated carefully and flawed human beings have a mixed history in those efforts to say the least. We’ve already seen some of that in how some have responded to the anti-harassment movement. Some are going so far as to avoid women entirely to minimize the risk. This is an extreme reaction, but one in keeping with the law of proportional backlash.

It has been frustrating for those who genuinely seek to improve gender relations. It has also made for easy sources of outrage with one side calling the other misogynist, patriarchal bigots and the other calling them regressive, whiny leftists. There’s a lot of room for arguments and plenty of opportunities for shouting, especially in the age of social media.

 

It’s still a relevant question for people caught up in the current state of gender politics, avoiding accusations of sexual misconduct and maintaining amicable relations among the genders. Crimes should be prosecuted and punished. Good people, whether they’re men, women, or something in between, should be free to engage with one another without fear of getting caught up in fervor.

Recently, the reigning sexiest man alive, Idris Elba, offered an easy solution to all those arguing about the current state of gender relations that many have rallied around. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he had this to say to those worried about navigating the anti-harassment movement.

“It’s only difficult if you’re a man with something to hide.”

It’s a simple, logical, almost mundane piece of advice. Many loudly cheered it as a welcome change of pace from the more complicated responses given by Matt Damon and Henry Cavill. When you’re the sexiest man alive and a top choice for the next James Bond, it’s easy to offer a simple solution that carries significant weight.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Elba. He’s a great actor and, by all accounts, one of Hollywood’s most likable personalities. In a perfect world, his words would not be controversial and require no further scrutiny. Sadly, we don’t live in that world.

I won’t go so far as to say that Mr. Elba is dead wrong. I won’t say he’s more than half-right, either. More than anything else, his comments are incomplete. They’re coming from a famous celebrity who also happens to be a tall, dark, handsome man whose success often leads to a considerable detachment from reality, as often happens in Hollywood.

If Mr. Elba had just said that men who have something to hide will probably face more difficulty than others, then he would be spot on. Whether you’re a famous celebrity or some ordinary person living their lives, having nothing to hide makes you far less likely to be on the wrong end of a sexual assault accusation.

In the era of smart phones, social media, and hacked emails, it’s considerably harder for anyone to hide their misconduct, sexual or otherwise. If anything, celebrities and powerful politicians are the only ones with the resources to hide their misdeeds and even that isn’t always enough. For non-celebrities, though, the resources are far more limited and this is where the merit of Mr. Elba’s words comes up short.

There are many ways to break down why simply having nothing to hide is not the most effective strategy for navigating the current landscape of gender politics. To best illustrate why it’s so shallow, though, we need only know the story of Brian Banks.

This guy’s story will upset/move you. You have been warned.

If you’re not familiar with that name, then chances are Mr. Elba isn’t either. His story is a tragedy with a bittersweet ending. Back in 2002, he was a promising a promising football player from Long Beach, California who had already committed to playing college football at USC.

Then, a classmate of his accused him of raping her in a stairway. Rather than face the possibility of 41 years to life in prison, Banks accepted a plea deal that included five years in prison, five years of probation, and having to register as a sex offender. By every measure, his life and his once-promising future was over. On top of it all, Banks was completely innocent.

That’s not just what a court eventually ruled. The accuser actually confessed that she made it up, adding that it was part of an effort with her mother to sue the school for money. It’s every bit as deplorable as it sounds. By the time this came out, though, it was 2012. He still served five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and lost out on his once promising football career.

Brian Banks followed Mr. Elba’s advice to the letter. He had nothing to hide. That still wasn’t enough, though. His life was still derailed and had the accuser not confessed, he probably wouldn’t have been able to rebuild his life to the extent that he has.

It’s easy for someone like Mr. Elba to give that advice and just as easy for him to practice it. As I noted before, he’s rich, successful, handsome, and respected. If someone tried to falsely accuse him of sexual misconduct, he wouldn’t have a hard time fighting it. Beyond his reputation as the sexiest man alive, he has access to the best legal defense that obscene wealth can buy.

People like Brain Banks don’t have that luxury. Exceedingly few individuals do. Banks plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit because, without those resources, there was a real possibility that he would’ve gotten a much worse sentence. He’s actually fortunate that he managed to escape the fate he did. Others, however, weren’t so lucky.

Brian Banks’ story, alone, is tangible proof that Mr. Elba’s advice is incomplete. Sadly, there are other stories like this and some of them have far less pleasant outcomes. According to the Innocence Project, there are an estimated 20,000 innocent people serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. They too had nothing to hide, but were convicted anyways.

There’s men like Randolph Arledge, who served 29 years for a rape and murder that he did not commit. The evidence that convicted him was based entirely on informant testimony.

There’s also the story of Marvin Anderson, who had no criminal record when he was convicted of a brutal rape for which he served 20 years in prison.

There’s also the case of Ted Bradford, who spent 10 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. There wasn’t even any physical evidence tying him to the crime.

There’s the case of David Johns Bryson, who served 20 years for heinous crime involving kidnapping and rape. A combination of bad forensic science and misguided police tactics did him in.

These men are not celebrities. They’re not rich movie producers or well-connected politicians. They’re just ordinary men trying to live their lives. They had no more to hide than anyone else. That still wasn’t enough. In some cases, they were the victims of mistaken identity. In others, they were the targets of a vindictive accuser. In every case, their lives were irreparably damaged.

I still don’t doubt Mr. Elba’s sincerity. Even those who applaud his words probably don’t realize the flaws in his advice. Names like Brian Banks probably don’t ever cross their mind. Even if it did, Mr. Elba’s words present a clean, concise response to those who express concern about the larger impacts of the anti-harassment movement. For those looking for an easy recourse to a difficult problem, it has a lot of appeal.

That’s the biggest problem with simple solutions to complex problems. The narrative of the anti-harassment movement, or any social movement, cannot accommodate that much complexity. If it did, the narrative wouldn’t be as compelling. As I’ve noted before, the idea that there’s this brave movement of empowered women standing up to serial abusers has all the makings of a feel-good Hollywood story.

The reality, though, is far less ideal. Men like Brian Banks found that out the hard way. If the work of the Innocence Project is any indication, there are probably plenty more who never had anything to hide, but still got convicted. For them, Mr. Elba’s advice will only compound one kind of injustice with another.

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