Tag Archives: social justice

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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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, psychology, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, women's issues

What Does It Mean For A Woman To “Own” Her Sexuality?

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In a perfect world, human sexuality wouldn’t be so political. From  a biological and societal standpoint, the fundamentals are simple.

Two people meet.

They gauge one another’s interest.

They decide to engage in an intimate relationship.

Together, they make a mutual effort to enjoy the fruits of that relationship.

Ideally, an expression of sexuality is a mutual exchange between two people seeking an intimate connection. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a heterosexual relationship, a homosexual relationship, or something more elaborate. So long as those involved are willing, considerate, and open, everyone shares in the benefits.

Sadly, we don’t live in that perfect world. Like it or not, human sexuality is one of the most politically charged topics anyone can discuss. It’s connected to hot button issues like abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, child welfare, poverty, crime, human trafficking, and even religion. Considering its role in propagating our species, it’s understandable why discussions about about it get heated.

That said, some of those discussions are political for all the wrong reasons. A few are even built on a foundation of absurdities that only serve to distort our perspectives on human sexuality and not in a good way. One of those discussions involve the idea of a woman “owning her sexuality.”

This idea isn’t new, but it has become a more common refrain in recent years, often in conjunction with media depictions of female sexuality. It’s become a slogan, of sorts, for whenever a female celebrity or fictional character does something that’s sexually empowering. Depending on where someone is on the political spectrum, they’ll either cheer or scorn their actions.

However, what constitutes “sexual empowerment” is poorly defined and exceedingly inconsistent. In some cases, empowerment involves a woman being more sexual than society at large deems appropriate. In other cases, empowerment involves a woman being less sexual or less feminine. Here are just a few examples.

When Miley Cyrus was nude in one of her music videos, some saw this as empowering.

When Lara Croft was redesigned to be less sexy in her 2014 reboot, some saw this as empowering.

When Muslim women justify restrictive Islamic dress codes, some saw this as empowering.

When some women decided to stop shaving their body hair, some saw this as empowering.

Regardless of what form it takes, the empowerment is framed as women either reclaiming or owning their sexual selves. What it means is often vague, but it usually carries a particular set of connotations.

To own one’s sexuality is to break a set of unspoken rules, give the finger to an unjust system, and forge your own sexual path. It’s like that moment in every great sports movie where the underdog beats the odds and triumphs over their evil opponents. In that triumph, their notion of what constitutes a fair and just expression of human sexuality is vindicated. All others are somehow flawed.

I concede that this is a gross generalization, but it’s the most common narrative I see whenever there’s a story about a woman owning her sexuality. It’s built around the assumption that female sexuality is always the underdog and to own it, a woman needs to somehow seize it from the clutches of repressive, misogynistic men.

Now, I don’t deny that there are many injustices in the current social landscape. Historically, female sexuality has been subject to seriously repressive taboos. Even today, there are still various taboos about female sexual pleasure. Many women genuinely suffer because of it. The idea of women enjoying sex as much as men is still jarring to some people. Some even find it threatening.

In that sense, I don’t blame women for wanting to embrace their sexual selves in an environment that treats their sexuality as tool for political issues or marketing. Like men, they have feelings and desires. They have every right to pursue them with the same passion as anyone else. When it comes to “owning” it, though, the terminology tends to obscure that pursuit.

The fact that “owning” your sexuality can mean so many different things ensures it ultimately means very little. It has become one of those vague, catch-all terms that’s supposed to mark something as meaningful, progressive, or enlightened. In many cases, it comes down to people using sexuality to provoke a reaction, garner attention, or protest an injustice.

While I’m in favor of protesting sexual injustices, the fact that “owning your sexuality” is such an ambiguous act makes it a poor form of protest. All it does is assert that you can make choices about how you express your sexuality and you’re willing to endure the criticism. That doesn’t say anything about the injustice itself.

If anything, the very concept of owning your sexuality raises more questions than answers. To own something implies possession. The fact that a woman owning her sexuality is so celebrated implies that the woman didn’t possess it in the first place. If that’s the case, then when was it taken from her? At what point did she not own it? What did she have to overcome in order to get it back?

To some extent, for a woman to own her sexuality, she and others like her must buy into the idea that someone else governs it to some extent. In some cases, it’s the media with their depictions of idealized feminine beauty. In others, it’s repressive religious dogma that seeks to control female sexuality.

While there are real instances of women having to escape repressive environments, there’s a big difference between a female celebrity posing nude for a magazine and a woman being brutally punished for committing adultery. One involves someone escaping a coercive force that causes them real physical harm. The other involves them doing something that will only subject them to harsh scrutiny, at worst.

In that context, a woman owning her sexuality is no different than willingly enduring extra criticism and aggressive slut shaming. Can it be excessive? It certainly can be. Is it the same as someone putting their life and their body at risk in order to express their sexuality? I would argue that it isn’t.

I know my opinion may not count for much on this issue since I’m a heterosexual man. I concede that there’s only so much I can understand about the female experience. At the same time, I feel inclined to point out that men are human too. Men are also burdened by various taboos and double standards. As such, a man “owning his sexuality” is subject to entirely different standards.

The fact that those standards are so different implies that there’s little substance behind the concept. If a woman can act overtly sexual in one instance and exercise extreme modesty, yet claim to own her sexuality in both cases, then where does the ownership come in? At what point is it any different than just making choices and living with them?

If there is no difference, then the concept is ultimately pointless.

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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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When Is It Okay To Tell Someone To Grow Thicker Skin?

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When I was a kid, I played little league baseball. My father also volunteered, being a lover of baseball and an all-around awesome guy. It was fun. I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t that good. However, I still thought I was better than the majority of the kids on my team. I’d been playing baseball with my dad in the backyard for years. I had developed those skills more than most.

Then, one year, my skills started to slip. In my defense, that was also around the time I developed asthma. I still thought I was good, but there’s only so much you can do with those skills when you’re coughing and wheezing half the time. As a result, my coach had me bat next to last and made me play outfield, which I took as a personal affront.

I know he wasn’t trying to insult me, but I took it very personally. Being a kid, I gave him and everyone around me a bad attitude. When I told my father about this, I thought he would be on my side. Instead, he wasn’t having it. My dad was not the kind of guy who rewarded bad attitudes. No matter how much I told him the coach’s decision upset me, he had the same response.

“Can’t hack it? Get your jacket.”

That became a mantra of his. At the time, I hated it. As I got older, I came to appreciate it. On the surface, it may seem harsh, especially when it’s directed a kid in the context of a little league game. However, it conveys and important lesson while indirectly raising an important question.

When is it okay to tell someone they need to grow thicker skin?

I believe this question is more important now than it ever was when I was a kid playing little league baseball. With the rise of outrage culture and numerous controversies on issues that rarely warrant controversy, I feel as though my father’s wise advice is more relevant than ever.

That said, answering this question isn’t simple. I know it’s tempting for anyone annoyed by political correctness to just brush off outrage as coming from thin-skinned, over-coddled snowflakes. That is, after all, a popular perception among the most vocal critics of outrage culture. However, that recourse ignores some important caveats.

It’s one thing to tell an over-privileged college student majoring in underwater basket weaving that they need to grow thicker skin. It’s quite another to say the same thing to a wounded veteran or a rape survivor. Make no mistake. Those over-privileged professional whiners exist and they deserve both criticism and scorn. They’re still the extreme cases. Most people operate in that vast area between extremes.

To illustrate, consider the following example. You’re on a stage telling a story in front of a large group of people. The story isn’t political, nor is it an attempt to convince someone of a particular worldview. The story contains some difficult themes, including references to graphic violence, sexual abuse, and racism. It doesn’t have to be based on real events. Those themes just have to be sufficiently graphic.

After you’re done telling the story, a small segment of the audience comes up to you and tells you they found your story to be deeply offensive. They claim that the simple act of you telling a story caused them real psychological harm. How do you respond to them?

For some people, their first inclination will be to apologize to them and everyone else who felt offended. This is often the first recourse for any celebrity who tends to make a public gaff, of sorts. It’s an easy option and, at the very least, will mitigate some of the outrage, but it has the added effect of derailing serious discussions.

For others, the first inclination will be to brush off those who are offended and tell them to grow thicker skin. There are certain individuals who make this their primary response. They tend to be less concerned about hurting peoples’ feelings and often criticize those who are easily offended. While that may be warranted in some instances, it can often come off as callous. In some cases, it devolves into outright trolling.

Whatever the recourse, both responses have the same flaw. They ignore the actual substance behind those who took offense to the story. It generalizes the nature of the harm they claim to have endured. It essentially lumps the offense that some thin-skinned college kid feels with that of someone who has legitimate issues.

Without those insights, any apology or lack of apology will make light of any genuine offense someone endures. Those details are necessary in determining who needs to grow thicker skin and who deserves a sincere apology. In essence, the right response is determined on a case-by-case basis and that can get both tricky and cumbersome.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they felt the story glorified the current and historical oppression of women by way of patriarchal traditions. Someone harmed by anything that vague definitely needs to grow thicker skin.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they’re struggling with a legitimate mental illness and parts of the story caused them significant distress that required medical intervention. In that case, telling them to grow thicker skin isn’t just insensitive. It’s downright malicious. People with legitimate medical issues can only do so much to manage their reactions.

It can get a lot more complicated. One of the audience members may have endured a real trauma in their lives and while they’re not on medications, they’re still struggling and hearing the story opened some unhealed wounds. In this instance, an apology is warranted, but only in the context of acknowledging someone’s real-world issues. You can’t tell them to grow thicker skin, but you can encourage them to heal.

Maybe there’s another audience member who just says the story was patently offensive and is too heavy on outdated stereotypes. They’ll angrily rant at how certain elements denigrated their heritage, their culture, and their race. It’s not just that the story was offensive. They believe anyone who tells it is as bad as those who made it. This person may be sincere, but they could also benefit from growing thicker skin.

There are any number of ways someone can claim offense. Some are legitimate, but most are contrived. As a general rule, any offense that requires someone to be offended on behalf of other people is questionable at best and insincere at worst. It tends to happen whenever people try to make broad claims about cultural appropriation or stereotypes.

Even if certain generalizations about cultures are legitimate and certain stereotypes have a basis in fact, the offense is still taken personally. The very fact that it exists is an affront. That’s usually another sign that thicker skin is at least part of the solution. It’s one thing to abhor racist acts. It’s quite another to abhor that it exists at all.

Everyone is wired differently. Some are just more easily-offended than others. That’s an inescapable fact of life in world that’s diverse and has the technology to over-react to anything that anyone may say. Even with those caveats, it certainly helps to discern those who suffer real harm from certain rhetoric and those who really need to grow thicker skin.

There are some criteria that can help us make that determination. It may not help in every case, but here are just a few.

If someone is offended by the fact that something exists, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by mere opinions of other people, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended on behalf of an entire group, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended because other people can’t know the specifics of what offends them without reading their mind, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by something that was not intended to offend or harm, then they need to grow thicker skin.

Again, these are just general guidelines and there are certainly exceptions to many. However, if we apply these standards to my story as an upset little leaguer who took offense to his coach’s decisions, then my father’s reaction would be appropriate. In that situation, someone is right to tell me that I should grow thicker skin. Moreover, I became stronger and more mature as a result.

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Feminism, Men’s Issues, And How Legalizing Prostitution Could Affect Both

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Politics, in general, are contentious enough. Gender politics, and the identity politics they invite, often escalate in ways that bring out the ugliest side in people. Every time I’ve talked about these sensitive issues, be they the sources of slut shaming or the implications of double standards, I’ve tried to be fair and understanding to all sides.

In addition, I’ve tried to focus on the bigger picture. That’s often necessary because debating gender politics can get frustratingly personal. I can make a perfectly reasonable argument on an issue like abortion, but that argument will get overshadowed by the fact that I’m a straight male. When it comes to something so divisive, the big picture is often the only one you can scrutinize.

I’m going to try talk about gender politics again and I’m going to get into a few specifics. I understand that’s risky. I also expect more than one person to disagree with my point, if not outright resent it. I’ll take that chance because I feel like this is a point worth making within the current political climate.

On top of gender politics, which covers a great many areas from media depictions to social issues, I’m going to explore it in the context of prostitution. It’s another issue I’ve scrutinized on both a legal and societal level. In this case, they’re intertwined in certain aspects that have major implications.

Even before gender politics entered its current state of contention, there was somewhat of a divide within feminism over prostitution and sex work. I’ve discussed it before, citing the different approaches of sex positive and sex negative ideologies. One sees it as inherently exploitative towards women. The other sees it as an exercise of agency and freedom.

For those concerned with men’s issues, the issue rarely comes up. When I’ve asked about it on places like Reddit, most adopt the libertarian stance. It shouldn’t be illegal and it’s not the business of the government to prosecute consensual sexual behavior. There are a few who oppose it for other reasons, but there isn’t the same divide as there is in other men’s issues.

That could change very soon and, unlike other recent controversies involving gender, it could have serious legal implications. That’s because for the first time in generations, the legality of prostitution is a serious issue during a major election cycle. More than four presidential candidates have gone on record as saying they favor decriminalization of sex work. For such a taboo issue, that’s pretty remarkable.

Some have likened it to the recent successes surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana. Others contend that recent crackdowns on sex workers have added greater urgency to confront this issue. Whatever the source, prostitution is finally becoming a relevant issue and gender politics is sure to be part of it. Unfortunately, that may not be a good thing.

To understand why, it’s necessary to understand what happens when lawyers and the law enter a debate. This isn’t like the anti-harassment movement that seeks to help victims of exploitation in the entertainment industry. This deals in real-world legal issues that have decades of complicated precedent. Changing the law is going to have impacts that go far beyond any trending hashtags.

Gender politics is sure to affect these issues. It already has, to some extent. In recent years, prostitution has become intertwined with transgender rights because it’s not uncommon for transgender women resort to sex work for survival. Keeping prostitution illegal puts an already-vulnerable population at even greater risk of exploitation.

It was also a certain subset of feminists, which includes the likes of Gloria Steinem, who favored the recent laws that cracked down against prostitution online. This is already an issue that strikes many chords within gender politics and it could certainly escalate as more legal challenges come to the forefront.

Just this past year, several states have proposed legislation that would decriminalize sex work. In addition, efforts to close the small number of legal brothels operating in Nevada failed in 2018. While there hasn’t been much tangible change in the courts yet, there is some momentum for this issue. It will only take one state to take the leap and, like marijuana before it, that could start a trend.

This is where the gender politics surrounding prostitution could either get slightly better or significantly worse. In a perfect exchange, the dynamics are simple. Two consenting adults agree on an exchange of money for sex. They carry out the act, exchange the money, and that’s the end of it. Both are satisfied, relatively speaking. There’s no further need for conflict.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Even in a world where prostitution laws are as equitable as possible, there are plenty of complications. Say, for instance, the two consenting adults agree to the exchange, but one fails or refuses to deliver on their part. Maybe a prostitute could suddenly change her mind about a client. Maybe a client feels the service did not warrant the payment.

How is this resolved?

What happens when someone tries to take a sex worker to court or vice versa?

How does the court or the police go about handling these issues in a way that protects the privacy and welfare of both parties? Is it even possible?

These are all relevant questions and gender politics can only complicate the answer. At the moment, most sex workers cannot go to the police or seek legal recourse when a client becomes abusive or uncooperative. If prostitution is decriminalized, then not only do they have recourse. They have leverage. To appreciate that leverage, consider the following scenario.

A married man with a steady job and several children is going through some serious issues with his wife. As a result, he seeks the intimate comfort with a female sex worker. They engage in multiple exchanges and, by the letter of the law, their actions are legal.

Then, one day, the sex worker incurs an unexpected debt she can’t pay. As a result, she finds out the married man is wealthy and asks for help. When he refuses, she threatens to go the police and claim that he was violent with her during one of their encounters. It’s not true, but filing a report will expose his activities to his family and likely ruin his life.

Very little in this scenario is outright illegal. The sex worker could get into a lot of trouble for filing a false report, but even if she cannot prove her case, the law allows her to pursue a recourse for a client who wrongs her and even if she doesn’t prevail, the client could still suffer incur significant damages.

It’s not just men who are vulnerable, either. Even if sex work is completely decriminalized and those who participate are safe from prosecution, it can still be used against them in entirely legal ways. To illustrate, consider this scenario.

A young woman gets accepted into a prestigious university, but is unable to pay all her expenses, despite having taken out multiple loans. She decides to get into sex work to make extra money, which helps her pay her way through college. She ultimately graduates with honors, gets a great job at a good company, and leaves sex work altogether.

Years later, someone she knew from college joins the company. They knew she did sex work on the side, but don’t bring it up. Then, they’re both up for a promotion and to get an edge, her associate reveals to the whole office that she did sex work. To prove it, this person provides an ad she used that they just happened to have saved.

The woman is humiliated and outraged. On top of that, she doesn’t get the promotion. She is so angry that she tries to sue the company and the person who revealed her past for damages. She also threatens to quit, but knowledge of her past is already public and even though her work was completely legal, it dissuades others from hiring her.

This issue isn’t entirely fictitious. In 2013, a California woman was fired from her teaching job after it was discovered that she’d worked in porn years ago. Even though what she did was perfectly legal, she lost her job and the appeal to get it back. With decriminalized sex work, this could become even more common.

In a world of decriminalized prostitution, those who seek the services of prostitutes are suddenly vulnerable in entirely new ways. A sex worker who need not fear arrest for their activities has a greater ability to expose their activities and use it against them. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of desperation or spite. The leverage is there.

The same applies to those who participate in sex work. Like it or not, there is still a heavy stigma for anyone who works in the sex industry. Even if prostitution is decriminalized, the stigma may still linger. If clients no longer fear arrest, then what’s to stop them from using that stigma against sex workers?

Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, these are major complications that have significant implications for everyone. They could ultimately widen the many divides within gender politics. Sex workers and clients alike could face significant, unwanted scrutiny that could trigger a whole host of new debates that nobody is ready for.

These issues aside, I’m still of the opinion that decriminalizing prostitution is preferable to prohibition. History shows time and again that prohibition does more harm than good. We cannot completely remove the harm, but at the very least, we can mitigate it.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, men's issues, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

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

How Religion (Indirectly) Re-enforces Inequality

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I once knew a guy who worked a job he hated for an overpaid boss he’d once described as a cross between Patrick Bateman and Darth Vader. I can’t put into words how much he resented that man. To make matters worse, he was one of those bosses whose family had connections. He couldn’t get fired, let alone disciplined. Even if he did, he had a trust fund that ensured he’d never work a day in his life.

My friend shared all sorts of horror stories with me, but I often found myself asking why he stayed at that job for so long. I also asked why he didn’t try to do something about it. I’m no lawyer, but I’m fairly confident that he could’ve sued his boss and won. He never did and gave plenty of reasons, some more understandable than others.

However, one particular reason stood out to me. While I don’t remember his exact words, this is what he told me.

“I’m not concerned. I know that one day, that asshole will die and when he gets to the gates of Heaven, he won’t be able to hide anymore. He’ll go to Hell. I’ll go to Heaven. I believe God is just. No matter how bad things get in this life, the scales always balance in the next.”

Now, I wasn’t surprised by this sentiment. This particular friend of mine was very religious. He’d gone to church every Sunday. He and his pastor were on a first-name basis. He could quote bible verses the same way I could quote X-Men comics. He knew his theology and I don’t doubt it helped him endure that awful job that he somehow endured for several years.

While I respect my friend and his faith, I find the notion of taking comfort in someone’s afterlife punishment more than a little unsettling. It’s not just due to the schadenfreude inherent in that sentiment. What I find most troubling is how this common theological concept perpetuates imbalances, injustices, and inequalities, albeit indirectly.

The very notion of an afterlife, especially with respect to concepts of Hell, has plenty of troubling issues. From both a theological and non-theological standpoint, it frames everything that occurs in the current life we’re living as a prelude for the much grander life to come. Even if a view of the afterlife has no concept of Hell, it still devalues our current lives to some extent.

However, when divine justice enters the equation, as it often did for my friend, there’s a less obvious impact that has real consequences in the non-religious lives of many. I would even argue that those consequences influenced society on multiple levels at many points throughout history. The extent of those consequences are hard to gauge, but the implications are unavoidable.

To illustrate, think back to the terrible boss my friend described. Think of him as a placeholder for any rich, entitled, over-privileged class of people in history. He could be a king, a warlord, a cleric, an emperor, or just some powerful tribal leader. By any measure, this individual has more power and wealth than almost everyone else.

While that earns them many benefits, from having all the nice stuff to attracting all the best sexual partners, it also makes them a target. What exactly entitles them to have all that power and wealth? Did they earn it? Did they fight for it and win it? What do they have to do to maintain it?

The answers vary, depending on circumstance and context. Some are more responsible with wealth and power than others. However, if we’re going to grasp the bigger picture here, we have to acknowledge the general guidelines of human nature and, chief among them, is the inclination to take the path of least resistance.

Like it or not, human beings are wired to take the easiest possible path to resolve an issue. That’s especially true of difficult tasks, such as maintaining an objectively unequal status within a society. Seeing as how humans, and even other primates, have an innate sense of justice, this is an issue that the rich, wealthy, and powerful cannot avoid.

That’s where religion enters the picture. Logistically speaking, it offers some convenient justifications for an objectively unequal situation. It’s not just that the boss, cleric, king, warlord, or rich asshole inherited their status. It was divinely granted to them.

That helps solve several major problems for the rich and powerful off the back. It means those who consider themselves pious and devout can’t just rebel against those of greater wealth. Doing so would mean protesting the will of the divine. For anyone concerned about facing divine wrath, that’s a major incentive to accept the current situation. In some cases, they even celebrate it.

That kind of divine excuse has another benefit, as well. For people like my friend, who have to toil under wealthy, entitled bosses, it gives them comfort about their current lot in life. While they could go through the trouble of fighting back, that’s both laborious and risky. Historically, powerful people don’t react kindly to being challenged and they don’t always fight back with lawyers.

Religion provides them another, less exhaustive option. Instead of going through all that trouble and taking all those risks, they need only keep living their current lives. They need not worry about contesting people like my friend’s tyrannical boss. He’ll face justice after he dies. That’s not just comforting. It plays directly into our natural inclination to resist change.

The only change these people believe in.

On a larger scale, this has minor personal benefits to the devout, but major benefits to the wealthy and powerful. If the vast majority of people are convinced that oppressors will get theirs in the afterlife, they’re not going to be as inclined to protest the status quo or, in the worst-case scenario, demand change that requires a loss of wealth and power.

This is especially important for religious leaders who, unlike governments or business elites, have to keep justifying why people devote their time, labor, and money to the institution. That’s tough when religious organizations don’t pay taxes, enrich top officials, and wield significant authority on geopolitical level.

It’s considerably easy, though, if the theology in question convinces adherents that the wealth and power of the institution is divinely granted. As a result, the inequality between the average believer and the top official is justified. That’s how the deity wants it. Even if some are corrupt, and there have been many, they’ll eventually face justice in the afterlife.

It gets even easier when adherents and believers are uneducated and uninformed. My friend wasn’t stupid, but he didn’t get much of an education, which was why he got stuck in a lot of bad jobs. His story is not uncommon. In general, the less educated you are, the more religious you tend to be. On top of that, less education often means a higher chance of living and staying in poverty.

In that context, it makes sense for religion to discourage critical thinking and higher education that isn’t specifically sanctioned by their institutions. If people aren’t educated, then they’re not just ill-equipped to question authority. They’ll remain in poverty and so too will their children, who are more likely to adopt their parents’ piety.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. People are born into their current lot. They either appreciate or resent it. Religion helps provide justification for it, however good or bad it might be. It gives them an excuse to accept it and pass it onto the next generation. Any inequality or injustice within that system remains in place and can even widen under the right circumstances.

Now, this is the point where I try to temper my rhetoric because I know the mechanisms I just described seem cynical. It gives the impression that every religious figure throughout history was just some greedy schemer who knew they were lying to gullible people and taking advantage of their faith to benefit themselves. I want to make clear that this is not the message I’m trying to send.

Are there religious and non-religious people who are that corrupt? There most certainly are. Some are more egregious than others. Some are historically egregious. I believe that most people, even those at the top of the hierarchy, are sincere in their piety. They don’t see their religion as a mechanism for propagating inequality and injustice. That’s why I see this impact as indirect.

Even if all organized religion disappeared tomorrow, I don’t doubt for a second that the wealthy and the powerful would find some other way to protect their status. For now, and for a good chunk of history, religion has been a powerful tool to justify and maintain this immense disparity.

Relying on the afterlife is convenient, but it requires assumptions that no human being can know for certain. Nobody truly knows what happens, if anything, after we die. We only know that no matter how rich or wealthy you are in life, death still affects you all the same. It is, in many respects, the ultimate equalizer.

In many respects, that’s the most valuable asset that the religious and the wealthy have going for them. The fact that nobody truly knows means that nobody can prove them wrong when they say their power is divinely protected. It also means that people like my friend can’t be proven wrong when they take comfort in the idea of his boss getting divine justice at some point. The result is still the same.

People on both ends of the inequality spectrum have an excuse to not change the situation. While there are some circumstance that are unalterable due to forces beyond anyone’s control, there are certainly some that can and should be confronted. As long as people find excuses in divine forces that cannot be confirmed, the inequality will only continue.

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, human nature, philosophy, psychology, religion