Tag Archives: Radical Feminism

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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The (Unequal) Gender Politics Of Divorce

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There are a handful of words that evoke a special kind of dread. I’m not just talking about racial slurs, crushing insults, or George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words. There’s one word that evokes dread that transcends race, gender, and political affiliation. That word is divorce. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing.

I can personally attest to the impact of that word. I have many close friends, relatives, and family members who have gone through divorce. I’ve seen, first-hand, how devastating it can be to individuals and their family. It can be every bit as devastating on children as well. While there is certainly a benefit for spouses and children who escape an abusive relationship, there can still be lasting scars.

Most people agree that divorce is a pretty traumatic experience. It is very much the antithesis of the love, connection, and intimacy we seek in others. It is against everything I generally write about on this website. However, divorce is a significant part of our society.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that the old “half of all marriages end in divorce” saying is not in line with the data. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate in 2015 was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. That actually represents a significant decline since the 1980 when the divorce rate was nearly 23 per 1,000 marriages.

Whatever the rate is, the effects of divorce are still devastating and heartbreaking. Those effects also get lost in a lot of doom-saying surrounding marriage and the state of the family, which is often led by religious zealots and reactionary pundits. Beyond even the tragic and painful stories surrounding divorce, there is another element to it that often goes overlooked.

Unfortunately, it has to do with gender disparities and I’ve learned in the course of writing about this topic, this often brings out some heated debates. I expect that to hold true more than usual on this issue because it’s already so emotionally charged. On top of that, there’s plenty of data to show that when it comes to marriage and divorce, men and women are not on the same page.

The first major indicator of that disparity is shown in who does the proposing. Even in today’s more progressive climate, men are still the ones who propose 90 percent of the time. Despite the many running jokes about men being afraid to commit, they’re still the ones who pop the question. While more and more women are starting to propose, this gap is still significant.

The second indicator, which I’m sure is going to inflame ongoing gender conflicts, has to do with who initiates divorce. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 80 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Again, that’s not a trivial gap. That implies there’s a major disconnect at work and it’s not getting better, even as more people remain single.

The reasons for women initiating divorce are many. I don’t want to get too deep into them, but there are many conflicting narratives. There are those who see marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression and divorce is tool of liberation. On the other side are those who claim marriage is just an institutional tool that women use to exploit men for resources with divorce being the oversized sledge hammer.

With the added complication of no fault divorce, alimony laws, and child support, there are more legal mechanisms than ever to rub salt in the wound that is divorce. It’s not enough for a relationship to end and for romance to fade. Involving lawyers and lawmakers adds multiple layers of heartbreak and frustration to the mix.

This is where the gender divide can get especially hostile. On top of the disparity in who proposes and who divorces, there’s also a significant divide in how these laws affect each gender. Even though women have gained much more economic independence over the years, 97 percent of the ex-spouses who receive alimony after a divorce are women.

Add the ease of no-fault divorce into the mix and there’s a painful incentive for women to initiate divorce. If the choice is staying in a boring marriage or leaving with some money without having to prove any wrongdoing, then who could blame someone for taking that option? It’s still heartbreaking and hurtful, but people are going to respond to incentives, regardless of gender.

It certainly hasn’t helped gender relations. Many unabashed misogynists will cite how many women receive alimony and use that to claim that all women are manipulative psychopaths who only see men as a wallet or a sperm bank. Those kinds of generalizations are crude, but when you can cite real-world cases of unapologetic gold digging among women, it’s easy to see where that hatred comes from.

Personally, I don’t believe that hatred is justified. Most men don’t see women with that kind of hostility. In principle, alimony exists to protect women who would otherwise be in poverty after divorce. That is reasonable and well-intentioned. In practice, though, it’s a legal tool that can be abused and further foster hateful attitudes.

The data for who gets primary custody of children is just as striking. According to Census data, 82 percent of mothers get custody after divorce. That same set of data also notes that this stat hasn’t changed much over the past 20 years. That, in my opinion, is the most frustrating aspect of this issue.

Despite all the other changes and trends we’ve seen in recent years with feminism, men’s rights activism, and evolving trends in marriage, there hasn’t been much change in the overall narrative. Even as feminists bemoan patriarchal oppression and men’s rights activities protest gender-driven injustice, the rhetoric rarely translates into meaningful change.

I understand that some relationships are just doomed from the start. I also understand that the nature of romance is changing in accord with culture, society, and law. However, the lack of change in the fundamentals of how we pursue marriage and manage divorce is confusing and even a little infuriating.

Women seek, and have gained, a great deal of rights and protections in pursuing their own path within a more egalitarian society. At the same time, they still hold onto traditions surrounding relationships. They still expect the man to propose and to support her in the event of divorce. I doubt that’s out of malice. This is just what we, as a society, consider normal.

At the same time, men are pursuing their own brand of rights and protections within this society. Issues like father’s rights and reforms to family courts all have a place in pursuing a more equitable system. Even so, men still expect women to play a certain role within a relationship while assuming too much about their own role.

It’s an untenable situation. Society is guiding the genders in one direction while they’re pulling towards another. The old narrative surrounding divorce is just not compatible with the one that’s emerging. The situation today is very different than it was in 1908. Laws, culture, and even the economy are changing the factors that guide divorce. The only thing that doesn’t change is the pain of a broken relationship.

As it stands, men and women both seem to want more equality in the tragic realm of divorce. However, they each seem to have very different ideas of what constitutes “equality.” The narrative, as it stands, is built around men pursuing women and women deciding when that pursuit is over. Anything that deviates from that is seen as abnormal or absurd.

Every relationship is different. Every individual is different. There are probably some women out there who divorce out of blind hatred and there are men who marry women they have no intention of loving for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of vindictive people out there and divorce is a weapon that needs no sharpening.

The late, great Robin Williams once said that “Divorce is like ripping a man’s genitals out through his wallet.”

Feminist, Gloria Steinem, once said “You become a semi-non person when you get married. The surest way to be alone is to get married.”

These attitudes nicely reflect the current gender divide when it comes to divorce. Until that gap is narrowed, the heartbreak and hatred inspired by divorce will only get worse. Men and women have enough reasons to clash with one another. Divorce just makes it worse by giving that animosity legal powers.

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Why The Republic Of Gilead Would Fail (Spectacularly) In The Real World

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In recent years, there has been a great deal of dread among feminists, libertarians, and supporters of secular values in the United States. The country seems to be going down an authoritarian path. Traditions of liberty and personal freedom are under threat by a government that seems more inclined to micromanage peoples’ lives for their own benefit.

One path in particular is becoming a lot more prominent. That is the one that could lead the United States to a government like that of the Republic of Gilead, the repressive theocratic regime from Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In that system, gender politics are pushed to the utmost extreme. The freedom, equality, sex, and love that contemporary society enjoys doesn’t exist.

The reasons for these fears are many. The current state of gender politics has become heated with the rise of the anti-harassment movement and ongoing legal battles surrounding abortion access. During the protests surrounding upheavals on the Supreme Court, it was common to see female protesters dressed in the distinct garb from the “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Such protest has even spread to other countries.

The message is clear. People are worried that our society is inching closer to a world similar to the repressive gender politics of Gilead. I can certainly understand those concerns. While I’ve often criticized certain aspects of gender politics, I don’t deny the worry that many women feel about the current state of affairs.

That said, I believe the idea that the United States, or any western country for that matter, could descend into a state of gender apartheid like Gilead is absurd. While we should be concerned about the influence of religious extremism, even in the west, the chances of it ever gaining power on the level depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is precisely zero.

Even if a regime like it came to power, it wouldn’t just fail quickly. It would collapse so spectacularly that it would be a joke on par with the Emu War. Gilead is not this all-encompassing, overwhelming power on par with Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” Atwood even implied at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that the regime was set to fall.

We’ve yet to hear that part of the story, but Atwood did announce that she’s working on a sequel. One way or another, Gilead’s days are numbered, even in the fanciful world that she created. Before then, I’d like to break down why the Republic of Gilead would be doomed if it ever attempted to set up shop in the real world.

If nothing else, I’d like to offer some perspective to those who fear that the state of gender politics is regressing. To those people, I share your concerns. However, I’m an optimist. I believe both feminists and men’s rights activists can and will find plenty of common ground on these issues in due time.

Even if they don’t, they can take comfort in knowing that Gilead, as both a philosophy and a system, is so flawed that dreading it is an exercise in hyperbole. There are still plenty of lessons to be learned from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but in terms of setting up a competent theocratic regime, it’s a perfect check-list on what not to do.


Reason #1: Establishing Gilead Would Collapse The Economy

One of the first things the Sons of Jacob did when they established Gilead was fire every woman from their job and effectively eliminate their legal rights. On top of it being an exercise in brutal oppression, it removed half the labor force from the economy. In 2010, there were approximately 123 million women in the workforce. Firing every one of them wouldn’t just cause a huge recession. It would destroy the economy at every level.

Even the most ardent anti-feminist would be badly hurt by a world where half the GDP just disappeared. Suddenly, the industries that everybody relies on just cease functioning. Baking, health care, technology, and basic services essentially collapse as both the labor pool and the consumer base disappears.

That means from the very beginning, Gilead would have to navigate the worst economic collapse in history. More often than not, governments that cause collapses or fail to recover from them don’t last very long. Even if the Sons of Jacob found a way to blame it on minorities, feminists, or other religions, they would still be on the hook for fixing things and doing so with half the labor force will be difficult, to say the least.

Beyond the logistics, destroying an entire economy as part of a religious crusade is going to piss off some very powerful people who were thriving in the current system. America, alone, has over 500 billionaires whose massive wealth would be threatened by such a collapse. People with those kinds of resources aren’t going to let Gilead succeed, even if they manage to seize power.


Reason #2: Micromanaging Peoples’ Lives Is Impossible (In The Long Run)

I’ve noted before that fascist systems have many fundamental flaws. There’s a reason why some of the most brutal, authoritarian regimes in history still ended up collapsing. In the long run, they find out the hard way that it’s just impossible to effectively manage the lives their citizens.

The Republic of Gilead is a lot like Big Brother in that it takes micromanaging to a ridiculous extreme. It doesn’t just have its own secret police to enforce a rigid caste system. Much of its governing philosophy relies on ensuring people stick to their roles and never deviate. Women do what the state requires them to do without question. Men do the same, right down to how they structure their families.

That system only works if human beings are like machines who never get bored doing the same thing over and over again for their entire lives. Since human beings are not like that, there’s no way that kind of society can remain functional in the long run. The fact that the boredom of solitary confinement drives people crazy is proof enough of that.

It still gets worse than that. In every revolution, there’s often a period of heavy solidarity when the people rally behind the new regime as the beginning of a new Utopian vision. This happened in the Russian Revolution and during the Cultural Revolution in Communist China. Unfortunately for Gilead, it came to power by brute, terrorizing force.

That means this government coming to power isn’t the will of the people. It’s just plain bullying and people tend to resent that sort of thing. Even the Iran Revolution had the good sense to rally the people. The Republic of Gilead didn’t bother with that. It’s hard to imagine that collapsing the economy and subjugating half the population at gunpoint will make them many friends.


Reason #3: Theocracies Are The Least Stable Forms Of Autocracies

Remember when a purely theocratic state managed to prosper without being located atop an ocean of valuable oil? I don’t either and there’s a good reason for that. When it comes to repressive authoritarian states, theocracies are the worst possible choice. That’s because by entwining government with religion, it’s also entwining itself with the various flaws of religion.

Big Brother didn’t bother with religion in “1984.” It didn’t have to because religion, for all intents and purposes, was obsolete. The authority of the state and the authority of a deity was the same thing. The Republic of Gilead doesn’t have that luxury. Their politics and theology is based on an extremely conservative form of Christianity.

While that may seem fine to the Pat Robertson’s of the world, it adds a whole host of complications to the mix. The Sons of Jacob justify their repressive actions by appealing to Christianity and the bible. That’s okay if every single person in the entire republic agrees on one single interpretation of a religion and its holy text. Unfortunately, that has never occurred in the history of humanity.

There are dozens upon dozens of denominations in Christianity. There are also fringe cults, radical sects, and even schisms within those groups. At most, Gilead could have a unified theology at the beginning, but as new generations come along, that unity will collapse.

People will inevitably disagree. Every side will claim God is with them and everyone else are heretics. This sort of thing has been happening with religion for centuries. It won’t stop in Gilead. At some point, someone is going to think they heard God tell them something else and no one will be able to convince them otherwise. When that happens, conflict will ensue.

That sort of conflict can be managed in a more secular dictatorship. When government and religion are entwined, though, it’s much harder to work around. Even if Gilead could survive an economic collapse and the logistics of micromanaging peoples’ lives, it’s very unlikely it’ll survive the never-ending onslaught of religious debates.


Reason #4: Gilead Would Be An Easy Target For Invasion

Whether you’ve read the book or only watched the TV show, it’s hard to tell what sort of geopolitics the Republic of Gilead deals with. There are a few hints that there are other countries who did not descend into theocratic repression. There are even some cases of refugees in neighboring areas where women still have their rights.

The existence of those neighbors is yet another complication that ensures Gilead won’t last long, no matter how much its leaders pray. It already created a huge refugee crisis when it took over a sovereign government by force. At the same time, it handicapped itself by collapsing its economy and relegating half its population to serve as baby factories. It’s not just a source of chaos. It’s an easy target.

Neither the book nor the show reveals much about Gilead’s military capabilities. Even if we assume they get their hands on nuclear weapons, they’re still vulnerable because other countries have them too. More importantly, they know how to operate and maintain them. Religious zealots are good at a lot of things, but science isn’t one of them.

In the same way creationists aren’t likely to understand quantum mechanics, an entire government run by religious extremists aren’t likely to manage advanced weaponry. As time goes on, their emphasis of religion over reality will undermine their ability to develop such weapons. Their secular neighbors will have no such qualms.

Letting Gilead endure with its religious extremism and gender oppression means establishing a precedent that most other countries don’t want. Seeing one country fall to such a violent overthrow would be jarring enough. The first reaction to every nearby country would be to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen to them. One of those steps could be overthrowing Gilead before one woman has to wear those goofy outfits.


Regardless of how you feel about “The Handmaid’s Tale” or where you stand in terms of gender politics, the book offers a powerful message. Like “1984,” it shows how bad things can get when extremism takes hold. Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, we have a lot more incentive to get along rather than fight one another. At the end of the day, that will ensure that Gilead remains nothing more than a flawed, fictional country.

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Why More Men Are Confiding In Sex Workers

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Where do you turn to when you need to confide in someone? Who can you trust to listen to your problems, not judge you, and show you basic human decency? Some people are lucky enough to have one or more person they can turn to during difficult times.

For me, it’s my parents. Both my mother and my father have always been there for me, no matter what I’m going through. I can tell them anything and I know they’ll listen. They won’t judge me. They won’t tell me to just suck it up. They’ve helped me through some pretty difficult times and I love them deeply for that.

Some people aren’t as lucky. They don’t have close friends or family members they feel they can turn to. This is especially true for those with poor social skills or severe social anxieties. These issues affect everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, in recent years, the impact on men has been more pronounced.

As a result, some of those men have been turning to an unexpected source when they need to confide in someone. It’s not friends, family members, or licensed therapists. It’s sex workers. While there are plenty of ugly politics surrounding sex work, some of which I’ve discussed, this unusual phenomenon makes sense, albeit for tragic reasons.

Rather than speculate on those reasons, I’ll let Nicole Emma share the distressing details from her recent Ted Talk. While I strongly recommend everyone to listen to the full lecture, this one anecdote she shared nicely sums up the issue.

“Yesterday, a miracle happened. Since my wife passed, I’ve been very lonely. I haven’t so much as been hugged in over two years. I’m not handsome. I’m not rich. I don’t know how to talk to women, but you held me. You rubbed my back. You listened to me vent about my grief. This might just be a job for you, but today you saved my life.”

Think about this aside from the fact that a man hired a sex worker. This man was lonely, having lost his wife and not experienced much physical intimacy since then. He’s not some charismatic character from a beer commercial. He’s just an ordinary man with the same basic needs as everyone else. He felt like he couldn’t meet those needs so he turned to a sex worker.

Why he felt this way is difficult to surmise, but as a man, I can make a few educated guesses. Like it or not, there’s a stigma associated with men who share their insecurities. I learned that first-hand last year when I dealt with the death of someone very close to me. Even though I was comfortable confiding in my parents, I still felt inclined to hold back.

I know I’m not the only man who has felt this and there are people far smarter than me who have studied this. There are many factors behind this taboo. Some will blame “toxic masculinity,” a flawed concept at best. Others will attribute it to certain expectations about men that we simply don’t scrutinize as much as we should.

Regardless of the cause, the issue comes back to having few outlets for their feelings. Not everyone can afford a therapist and some are even reluctant to share these sentiments online. Given the prevalence of trolling these days, I can’t say I blame them. In that context, a sex worker is in a perfect position to help these men.

Yes, I’m aware that may be a poor choice of words.

Logistically, it provides them with something clear and transparent. The man knows what the woman wants. The woman knows what the man wants. The price is clear and predetermined. There’s no uncertainty or mixed messages.

Beyond the logistics, the exchange fulfills some of basic of needs. There’s actual, physical intimacy. There’s no screen between the man and the sex worker. There’s real human contact and that, in and of itself, provides significant health benefits. Add the inherent health benefits of orgasms and the impact of a sex worker can be more therapeutic than any therapist.

Even without the sex, a sex worker offers the man something that’s difficult to find, even in today’s hyper-connected world. For once, they’re with someone who will listen to them in a way that’s objective, unbiased, and free of judgment. A sex worker may see them as a client, but part of their work involves providing intimacy. Oftentimes, the line between physical and emotional intimacy isn’t clear.

Ms. Emma, having been a sex worker for years, understood that and, based on her personal testimony, she did her job very well. That man she referenced benefited from having that kind of intimacy. Unlike a therapist or a counselor, she didn’t treat him as someone who was sick or in need of medication. She just treated him as a lonely man who needed some intimacy.

I think many men can empathize with that situation. I doubt don’t that women can empathize with it as well. Sometimes, you don’t want therapy and you don’t want the complexities of other social interactions. You just want someone who provides a service that allows you to feel some basic level of emotional and physical intimacy.

Regardless of how you feel about the legality of prostitution or the men who hire sex workers, there’s no denying that this sort of intimacy is a fundamental need. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t get it. In recent years, we’ve seen it get downright ugly and hateful.

People need emotional and physical outlets, regardless of gender. The fact that sex workers are the primary outlet for some men is emblematic of a much larger problem. Beyond the taboos, stigmas, and misguided gender politics, we’re still human. We all still seek intimate connections. Without it, people will suffer and ignoring that suffering will only make it worse.

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Scrutinizing (And Questioning) The Gender Wage Gap

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There are some assumed truths that we, as a society, don’t question as much as we should. In the era of fake news, alternative facts, and conspiracy theorists who act like living internet memes, it’s hard to know what’s true anymore. Even when things are proven definitively false, people still cling to them. Why else would creationism still exist?

However, there are a few over-arching assumptions that I feel deserve more than just skepticism. There are some common talking points that have significant flaws solely because of their implications. You don’t even need to compile statistics or conduct extensive research. Just asking questions that build directly from the logic are sufficient to expose underlying flaws.

One talking point that keeps coming up in the world of gender politics is the gender wage gap. It’s been an issue for years, but keeps coming up in everywhere from Hollywood to tech companies. Even though I’ve talked about gender politics many times before, I’ve avoided this particular issue because everyone can find numbers to throw at it to support their position. As a result, there’s not much to write about.

That’s why I’m not going to try and debate it with economic studies or statistics. There are plenty of other people far smarter and more qualified to do that sort of thing. Instead, I want to scrutinize this common and contentious issue in a few simple ways that I hope demonstrate why it’s such a flawed issue to begin with. I believe this can be accomplished by asking just a few simple questions.


If Women Are Always Paid Less, Then Why Would A Company Hire Men?

I’m not an economist, a financial specialist, or a business expert, but I understand logistics as well as most people. Last I checked, a good business seeks to maximize profits and minimize costs. That’s the hard of nearly every challenge for every business, whether they’re selling widgets or time shares.

With that in mind, why would any business hire men if they can save money by hiring women? If women are every bit as capable, as many in the halls of gender politics argue, then there’s no reason for them to favor men. If the gender wage gap is true, then any business that hires men is intentionally throwing money away.

I get that the economics of wages, combined with the complexities of gender dynamics, create all sorts of confounding factors. That doesn’t change the math or the incentives surrounding profit. The basics of the wage gap imply that there’s a system in place that allows companies to pay women less for the same work, but they’re not taking advantage of it.

That just doesn’t make sense and I rarely hear those who bemoan the pay gap address this. I feel like since most people don’t understand business or economics, it’s easy to ignore and people just take the path of least resistance.


What Exactly Constitutes Equal Work?

This might be entirely subjective in most cases, but the idea of “equal pay for equal work” is becoming a bigger and bigger part of this issue. I hear politicians, pundits, and protesters using this phrase in any number of speeches in debates. However, they never go into detail.

Equal pay is one thing, but equal work is something else entirely. Human beings are not machines. Even if two people have the exact same skill level, they’re not always going to produce the same product with their work. That’s just not physically possible for non-cyborg humans.

I don’t doubt that a woman can be just as good as a man in many tasks, from typing up reports to carving furniture out of wood like Ron Swanson. Most of these skills are not physically impossible for able-bodied people, regardless of their genital configuration. Even if they’re capable, though, how do you decide that their work is equal?

Is it determined by how much time they put in? Is it determined by the volume of the work or the amount of money it generates? Most businesses use a mix of workers that have a wide variety of talents, skills, and abilities. Given those constraints, the whole idea of equal work seems to break down.

I’m not saying there aren’t cases where a woman is paid less for doing the same work as a male counterpart. That probably has happened before and will happen again. I just don’t see how that can be address beyond a case-by-case basis.


How Do You Enforce Perfectly Equitable Pay?

Beyond just determining what equal work is, there’s the whole concept of enforcing that equality. Passing laws is the most obvious possibility, but implementing those laws can be tricky. In the state of Georgia, there’s a weird law that prohibits people from living on a boat for more than 30 days. How do the authorities go about enforcing something like that?

Like I said before, businesses have all sorts of complex machinations. People have a variety of skills, roles, and duties. Not everyone works the same hours and not everyone will work with the same efficiency. Do they all still get paid the same? How would you even go about determining what constitutes fair pay in every instance?

It’s not just unfeasible. It’s physically impossible. There are so many subjective forces at work and everyone will argue that their work contributed more value than everyone else’s. They all can’t be right, but they all can be wrong and if everyone is wrong, then how can you know the truth? Even if the idea of equal pay seems good and just, it still breaks down when you try to apply logistics.


What Else Can People (Reasonably) Do?

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed and signed into law by President Kennedy. This law stated outright that no employer could utilize sexist discriminatory practices when determining the wages of its employees. That law has been on the books ever since. It’s a federal law so it applies to every state and territory. It can be enforced by legal resources at every level of government.

Paying someone less because they’re a woman is already illegal and has been for decades. What else can people do? Like I said, enforcing a law is difficult, but the law is still there. However, in the same way that drug laws didn’t make illicit drugs go away, laws concerning equal pay don’t make the gaps go away.

Laws can only provide rules. They can only do so much to change society as it is. The pay gap has significantly narrowed, but it’s not perfect. Nothing ever is. Beyond abolishing wages for everyone, which may actually happen one day, what else can be done? I get that many favor hiring more women and minorities, but is that really reasonable for every business in every sector of the economy?


Again, I see the merit and the passion behind the idea. Someone getting paid less for their work just because of their gender is a gross injustice, but righting that wrong in such a complex world just isn’t that easy. Nothing ever is. I know these questions can’t be fully answered, but I hope that simply asking them offers a more complete perspective of the issue.

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

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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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When Fighting For Equality Is Counterproductive

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Have you ever met someone who is just inherently better at something than you? No matter how hard you practice, you just can’t reach their level. They’re still better. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we all have to learn at some point, but I worry that some people are trying to put that lesson off while others are trying to outright subvert it.

In general, the intent is noble. The world is full of horrendous inequality. There’s wealth inequality, gender inequality, and even inequality in representation within superhero comics. While we have done a lot in the century to reduce inequality, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

For the most part, people support those efforts. You won’t find many people who aren’t enjoying a fat inheritance that will say outright they want less equality. Segregation, rigid caste systems, and the dehumanization of minorities is largely frowned upon for reasons I hope I don’t have to recount.

Seeking a more equal and just world is a perfectly respectable endeavor. For the most part, I support those efforts. I believe we should work towards a more egalitarian society where the rights and dignity of individuals are protected and respected. Even though we have laws in place, as well as principles espoused at an international level, we could do a better job at enforcing them.

With all that said, there’s still one burning question that I feel is worth answering. It relates directly to the first question I asked earlier and the harsh lesson it teaches us.

How much equality is actually possible?

It’s one of those questions that’s impossible to answer, but evokes many heated debates, regardless of politics or affiliation. Whether it’s economic issues or gender issues, these debates often devolve into one side calling the other a fascist or a bully. Every now and then, there’s some meaningful discourse and even a few novel ideas. In the era of outrage culture, though, this seems to be getting increasingly rare.

We’re at a point where even the slightest hint of inequality is deemed untenable.

Are there too few female superheroes in comic books? That’s not equal!

Are there too few people of color being cast in major move roles? That’s not equal!

Are there too few minorities in Forbes list of 100 richest people? That’s not equal!

Are there too few women in fields of science, medicine, and technology? That’s not equal!

Are there too few dating options for people who are disabled or obese? That’s not equal!

Are there too many beautiful women who only hook up with assholes? That’s not equal!

Are there too many handsome men who only date supermodels? That’s not equal!

I could list dozens of other situations that are grossly unequal. I purposefully omitted big ones like the gender wage gap and racial disparity in criminal arrests because these are cases that best highlight the logistics of promoting equality versus the ideals surrounding equality.

By law, it’s illegal to pay someone less because of their gender and has been since 1963. The courts have also historically ruled that it’s illegal to selectively enforce laws on the basis of race. These precedents are decades old and on the books for any lawyer to enforce. Why is there still so much inequality?

There are many reasons for that and I’m not smart enough to make sense of all of them. However, I think the mechanisms that continue to drive inequality can be best summed up by a terrible Jennifer Aniston movie from 2006 called “The Break-Up.” Yes, I know that sounds ridiculously random. I promise there’s a reason behind it and it relates to the underlying concept of equality.

In that movie, a couple is going through some nasty conflicts that are only mildly amusing at best. However, the most revealing quote from the movie, which also happens to be most relevant to this topic, is when Jennifer Aniston’s character tells her significant other this.

“I want you to WANT to do the dishes.”

It is, without question, an absurd statement that makes an unreasonable demand on someone she claims to love. It nicely sums up the entire conflict of the movie and effectively spoils the ending. These two are not in a functional relationship. In fact, if they had actually stayed together at the end, it would have been unhealthy for both of them.

That’s not because the relationship was unequal. It’s because both Jennifer Aniston’s character and Vince Vaughn’s character had very different ideas of what was “fair.” I put fair in quotes because it was an empty concept in this context. They didn’t just want equality in terms of roles, responsibilities, and privileges. They wanted equality of outcome and consequences.

That’s not just an unreasonable expectation. It’s a catalyst for outrage. It’s one thing to fight for legal equal protection, but fighting for equal outcomes and consequences is a losing battle. You’re better off trying to divert Niagara Falls by spitting at it. On top of that, it sets people up for disappointment and outrage.

The all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” was never going to make as much money or be as beloved as the original.

The push for less sexy video game characters was never going to improve gender relations in the gaming community.

Attempts to replace Iron Man with a 15-year-old black girl from Chicago was never going last for very long.

All these outcomes were fairly predictable, but still generated incredible outrage with people crying discrimination, racism, sexism, and every other kind of insult in keeping with Godwin’s Law. As a result, those still fighting for what they see as “fair” have to step up their game and push harder. That often means becoming more extreme in rhetoric, emotions, and tactics.

Since things like reality, facts, and basic human nature often get lost in extremes, it makes sense that we have such radical segments of the political and social spectrum. I believe most of them genuinely believe they’re fighting for greater equality and greater fairness, as they see it. A few are probably just genuine assholes looking for excuses to be bigger assholes, but they’re the minority.

To some extent, I can appreciate the intent and effort of those fighting for more equality. The world is still imperfect and humanity, as a whole, is exceedingly imperfect. Our collective history is riddled with injustices and atrocities of staggering proportions. We should strive to be better, as individuals and as a civilization. A part of that effort pursuing a society of equal rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

At the same time, some levels of inequality are unavoidable. Sometimes, it’s due to simple demographics. Sometimes, it’s due to the basic laws of biodiversity or sexual dimorphism. Sometimes, there are individuals that are just inherently better at you than something. I could practice basketball every hour of every day for the rest of my life. I’ll still never be as good as LeBron James.

That kind of equality is just not possible in the real world. Until we all become shape-shifting cyborgs, we can only be equal to a certain extent. Many sincere people disagree on where that extent is and where it should apply.

However, there’s a real danger in trying to achieve the impossible and getting upset whenever it’s not achieved. It doesn’t just suck up energy, ideas, and resources from other meaningful endeavors. It fosters hostility towards others and their ideas. In the same way Jennifer Aniston’s character couldn’t make her boyfriend want to do the dishes, we can’t make someone else want our idea of equality.

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