Tag Archives: women’s issues

Natural Contraceptive App Blamed For Unplanned Pregnancies (As Expected)

Pregnant woman standing outside on a sunny day

There’s no question that advances in contraception have had a profound impact on our society. Some applaud it. Some resent it. Either way, there’s no uninventing it. Contraception, be it male or female, is a big part of our society and further advances promise to have an even bigger impact.

I’ve talked about the future of contraception before, as well as the potential impacts of those advances. There are a lot of things in development, as I write this, that men and women alike should get excited about. Between better IUDs and more birth control options for men, we’re quickly entering an age where we have unprecedented control over our fertility.

It’s for that very reason that it’s necessary to take a step back and remind ourselves of the existing flaws we have with the current state of contraception. There’s a reason why those advances I mentioned are in development to begin with. What we have now is pretty good, relative to older, more archaic forms of birth control. However, there are a few shortcomings that tend to lead to dramatic, albeit predictable failures.

One of those shortcomings/failures made the news recently and left several dozen women very disappointed, to say the least. According to a story from TheVerge, a recently-developed contraceptive app called Natural Cycles is being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, female biology, and nature in general probably isn’t surprised.

That’s because the app in question basically made something like this inevitable. According to the article, the Natural Cycles app is supposed to help women who rely on more natural family planning methods. In terms of the actual process, these are the basics:

The app uses an algorithm and measures factors like temperature to determine the period when a woman may be fertile. It’s a popular alternative to hormonal contraceptives like the pill because it lacks side effects.

It’s pretty basic, but the principle makes sense on paper and isn’t based on radically new ideas. The concept of a woman tracking her fertility to determine the times of month when she’s most likely to conceive a child is fairly well-known. It’s most commonly called the “Rhythm Method” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it takes a lot of preparation.

To use this method, a woman needs actively track her menstrual cycle, accurately determine the parts of that cycle where she’s most fertile, and plan her sexual activity around those time-frames. It takes a great deal of physical awareness, as well as a certain measure of discipline, which some people are better at than others.

The Natural Cycles app is supposed to supplement those principles by aiding in that tracking process. It even tries to provide the woman with more data so that she has a better understanding of her body while tracking her cycle. In theory, having perfect knowledge of her biology will ensure a woman knows when she is or isn’t fertile.

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It’s that exact theory, however, that makes this news about a surge in unplanned pregnancies so unsurprising. There’s a good reason why this sort of approach to contraception is rarely practiced by anyone other than committed couples and is often discouraged as a general form of contraception.

As with so many other theories, the actual practice of the method doesn’t always work in the real world. That’s because the real world is a lot more chaotic, varied, and unpredictable than concepts on a piece of paper. That applies even more to human biology, male and female.

Now, the appeal of natural family planning like the one Natural Cycles promotes is undeniable. You don’t need to take a pill. You don’t need to have something inserted into your body. Plus, it gives you a chance to really know and understand the workings of your body. For both sexual health and general health, that’s has many benefits.

Unfortunately, the human body is not known for being that transparent. It does not come equipped with a USB port or a wireless interface that provides us with accurate, real-time data about our insides, although that’s one advancement science is working on. Absent that data, natural family planning, even with the aid of Natural Cycles, is going to be either incomplete or flawed.

I don’t doubt that the use of Natural Cycles helps in the process, but there’s a good reason why the same Mayo Clinic that so thoroughly lays out the process of natural family planning also identifies it as one of the least reliable forms of contraception. This is what they had to say about the risks associated with this method.

Using the rhythm method as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it’s considered one of the least effective forms of birth control. How well the rhythm method works varies between couples. In general, as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control become pregnant the first year. Also, the rhythm method doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Given this information, the fact that some of those using the Natural Cycles app ended up pregnant should surprise no one. The shortcomings of natural family planning are well known and, for the moment, no app is capable of circumventing those shortcomings.

It’s not just that even the most basic activities of the human body are so difficult to quantify and track. Doing so and trying to plan around it assumes all those involved behave with perfect discipline. While I still believe that most human beings are inherently good at heart, I don’t doubt that human beings can also be erratic, irrational, and just plain stupid at times.

There will be moments when a woman misjudges or mistimes her fertility over the course of her cycle. There will also be moments when the passions between a woman and her lover will override whatever discipline they had promised to exercise during that time of the month. Even when people aren’t stupid, they can be overwhelmed by a moment.

That’s the ultimate flaw of natural planning and apps like Natural Cycles. It’s not just prone to human error. It relies on the absence of human error in order to work perfectly. That’s not just flaw. Those are unreasonable expectations that no population of healthy human beings can hope to meet.

It’s sad that several dozen women had to learn this the hard way, even if the outcome was fairly predictable. If nothing else, it should remind us just how much work we need to do on improving contraception, women’s health, and our overall understanding of our biology.

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The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

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There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

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More Women Are Watching Porn (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

I don’t often talk about the porn industry on this blog. I know that sounds like an oversight, but it’s a deliberate oversight. In my experience, porn is just one of those things that either bothers certain people to no end or is just shrugged off by everyone else.

We know it exists. We know it’s a big business that has always existed, to some extent. Sure, it’s controversial. Some still try to fight it, but to date, nobody has ever won that fight and the sheer amount of porn that exists is proof of that.

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, who also happens to be a straight man with an internet connection, I’m very much aware of porn, the industry that makes it, and the consumer base that fuels it. While erotica novels aren’t quite as taboo as porn, it does have many similarities. “50 Shades of Grey” proved those similarities aren’t that subtle.

In addition, those same trends can also reflect evolving attitudes towards sex, sexuality, and how people treat intimacy. One might be forgiven for thinking that everything involving sex, intimacy, and how we consume erotic content is devolving into chaos. However, in the midst of all these unsexy trends, I’d like to offer some news that should further complicate the evolving sexual landscape.

According to recent data released by PornHub, also known as the most popular porn site on the internet, 2017 saw the biggest surge in porn consumption came from women. More specifically, the search term “porn for women” increased in popularity by 359 percent. Even if you’re terrible at math, you understand that’s a significant increase.

It’s an increase that the porn industry is noticing, among others. They kind of have to notice it because women still make up half the population last I checked. Even though catering to mostly men has helped make porn a multi-billion dollar industry, it still has room to grow and women are the key, just not in the way the industry is used to.

Whether it’s due to the impact of “50 Shades of Grey” or the impact that feminism has had over the past few decades, more women are consuming porn than ever. Granted, that could just be because more women are willing to admit it, but the data is there. This is happening, regardless of what men or other women say about it.

The type of porn they’re consuming is also noteworthy, if only because their patterns of consumption are different from those of men. According to Vice.com, the type of porn women search for varies in terms of theme and genre. They’re not wildly different from men, but it does highlight some differences in terms of the erotic content both genders pursue.

While I’d love to talk more about the types of adult content women are seeking, if only to highlight how I can work that content into my novels, there’s a particular detail to this story that I want to highlight. I have a feeling it’ll be controversial for some. I’m willing to take that risk because I think this is worth saying.

More women consuming porn is a GOOD thing for both genders.

Take a moment to finish rolling your eyes. I understand that sounds exactly like something a man who regularly writes about sex robots and sex-positive superheroes would say. That doesn’t make the statement any less valid.

While I won’t claim that trends in women consuming porn are all good, as the breadth of human nature is far too broad for a claim that bold, I strongly believe that this is one of those trends where the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s not just because it shows women are more comfortable exploring sexy things. I actually think the positives run much deeper than that.

That’s because in recent years, the porn industry has only ever made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Between the recent spike in porn stars committing suicide and uptight politicians declaring it a public health crisis, it’s safe to say that porn has a public image problem, to put it mildly. However, I think the foundation of that problem goes beyond the explicit content behind it.

To illustrate that, it’s necessary to point out an unusual quirk in the effects of porn on men compared to women. There have been plenty of studies on how porn affects men. Some of it documents negative effects while others reveal positive or no effects. For women, though, the effects are considerably different.

It often occurs whenever there’s a correlation between a negative consequence, like broken relationships and porn consumption. Whenever that correlation exists for men, it rarely occurs to the same extent, if at all, for women. That means that even if there are harmful effects of porn consumption, it does not affect women as much as men.

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To further complicate those insights, as often tends to happen in sexually-charged issues, research has shown that couples who watch porn together are either not negatively affected or enjoy greater levels of satisfaction. That means when it comes to the effects of porn, context and attitudes matters. I’ve mentioned the importance of context when it comes to assessing masculinity. It seems to apply even more to porn.

That’s why I believe women consuming more of it is a good thing, in terms of evolving that context. Unlike other hobbies, porn is unique in that it involves sex and sex often other people. When only one part of that equation is consuming the content, then that content is going to skew in the direction of those consumers. That’s just basic economics.

In this case, those skewed economics can have unpleasant consequences. To those who claim porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex, this is why that occurs. When the consumer base is so narrow, it’s going to become unbalanced. We saw that in the disparity of contraceptive development. Porn did the same.

Over time, that has the effect of narrowing the appeal of the content. To those not consuming that, it takes on a strange, if not taboo context. In the past, this has been reflected by women seeing men’s consumption of porn as creepy or perverse. It’s not unlike how comic books used to be seen as something for kids. Then, they evolved to capture a wider audience.

With women entering the consumer base, the porn industry has a chance to change that narrative. If women are watching more porn, then it becomes less taboo. On top of that, it expands the industry. I’ve talked before about how taboos fade or die off. One of the most potent ways taboos falter is when there are economic forces working against it.

In a sense, the best way for women to make the porn that men consume more equitable is to consume it themselves. By giving the industry a powerful incentive to balance out the content, they create the necessary incentives for producers to make the kind of erotic content that both gets them off and spices things up with their lover. It’s ironic that this is how to make the porn industry friendlier to women, but it’s also somewhat fitting.

As it stands, women’s taste in porn are still evolving and the industry is still figuring it out. However, there are a number of sites out there looking to tap this once overlooked market. In wake of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, there’s even a new sub-genre of porn called ethically produced porn. Think of it as fair-trade coffee for sex.

Regardless of how some feel about the porn industry, in general, or women entering a consumer base once dominated by men, their presence will have an impact. That impact may make some uncomfortable or upset at first, but I believe in the long term, it’ll be a net positive.

We’re entering a world where it’s not taboo for a woman to say she enjoys watching porn. It’s also a world where men don’t have to be as ashamed or secretive about their own porn consumption. I think when those respective taboos fade, it’ll be easier for men and women to have honest conversations about what they like, what turns them on, and everything in between.

Sure, it’ll be awkward. Men and women talking about their respective porn consumption is bound to cause more than a few stressful conversations. However, if the end result is a more open and honest understanding of our sex lives, then I honestly say that extra awkwardness is worth it.

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Pro Life, The Sanctity Of Life, And The (Literal) Value Of Life

People participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington

As a general principle, I limit my discussions on abortion to a maximum of three per year with zero still being the preferred amount. Last year, I wrote a couple articles about it, but that was it. I tried to make clear on both occasions that while I don’t deny the seriousness of this issue, I generally have little to contribute.

It’s not just because I’m a man and will never need an abortion. Pretty much all the arguments surrounding abortion are intractable. Like debating creationism, there’s no way to convince someone who is set in their opinions to change them. You’d have a better chance convincing someone the sky is green, Mars is made of cheese, and “The Emoji Movie” wasn’t terrible.

All that said, abortion is still a serious issue that is evolving before our eyes both culturally and legally. This is one of those issues that affects everybody, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether you’re a baby, an old man, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer, abortion’s reach is vast because it involves life, sex, family, and the propagation of our species. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.

Even with those stakes, the only reason I’m talking about it now is because I live less than two hours away from Washington DC. When there’s a major protest, I generally know about it before it starts trending on social media. The latest gathering was the annual March For Life protest, a demonstration dedicated to decrying the ills of abortion and supporting “pro-life” legislation.

Now, I put “pro-life” in quotes for a reason that I hope will make sense in a bit. I’ve already criticized that term because there are those who use it to hide the fact that they care more about maintaining consequences for those who have more sex than churches, mosques, and synagogues prefer. I don’t intend to belabor that argument, but it is somewhat related to the point I want to make.

Having seen plenty of these protests, I notice a common theme that is at the forefront of the “pro-life” movement, but is rarely scrutinized. That’s the whole concept of the “sanctity of life.” I put that in quotes too for the same reasons I hope are obvious by the end of this article. Unlike the anti-sex crowd, this concept is central to the overall movement.

Beyond the intractable belief that life begins at conception and abortion is the taking of a life, the idea that there’s an inherent value to all life, regardless of what stage it’s at or how it affects the life of the mother bearing it. Without there being substantial value, then the whole arguments about when life even begins becomes meaningless.

I’m not going to make the argument that life has no value or that life, in general, should be devalued. I’m of the belief that we only get one life to live and that makes it valuable to some extent. However, I do want to take a minute to try and quantify that value, if only to provide some context to the “pro-life” movement.

I’m not first one to try this. The late, great George Carlin dug into this issue with more candor and brilliance than I or anyone else ever could in 1996. He dared to ask this question in a way that still came off as funny, yet insightful.

“Only living people care about it, so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self-serving, man-made bullshit story. It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred, makes you feel noble.

Well let me ask you this, if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is going to die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. Because even with the stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it.”

It may sound cynical, but it’s relevant if the “pro-life” movement is to have any logical and moral validity to it. If it’s going to ascribe a high value to life, then that value can’t be too vague. There has to be some part of it that translates into real, tangible value. Without that, “pro-life” arguments are just empty rhetoric wrapped in inflamed emotions.

So in order to give that value to life, I want to pose a couple questions to the “pro-life” crowd. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I think it’s important to put this question out there to put context into the anti-abortion arguments that seem so intractable.

“If you truly believe abortion is murder and want to save the lives of unborn children, are you willing to pay women to carry their unwanted children to term?”

That’s a simple yes/no question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer. I have a feeling many answers will be quick and brash, as most are in highly emotional debates. I expect the phrase “personal responsibility” to get thrown around a lot. That seems to be a catch-all word that conveniently provides an excuse to not help someone in a bad situation.

I’ll set aside the issues with that concept for now and ask the second question. This is where it gets more specific.

“How much are you willing to pay someone to not get an abortion and carry a child to term?”

I expect more variation with this question. I also expect more vitriol because I’m basically asking someone to put a price on a human life. I understand that very thought makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think of themselves, a loved one, or a child as having some sort of number attached to it.

Then again, we don’t seem to mind that when we get our social security numbers, our addresses, or our paychecks. Like it or not, we’re all ascribed some amount of numeric value at some point in our lives. That doesn’t mean some lives are inherently more valuable than others, but it highlights the fact that we can and do link life to numbers.

Now, in order to help out those who may struggle with this question, allow me to do some simple math that should help make this question more palatable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 652,639 legal induced abortions in the year 2014. In addition, the average total cost for pre-natal care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation is approximately $2,000. Since that’s only for healthy babies, let’s make it $2,500 to account for complications.

Now, multiply 652,693 by $2,500 and we get $1,631,732,500. For the sake of redundancy and accounting for other possible complications, let’s round that up to a total of $1.7 billion. So for $1.7 billion, you could conceivably cover the cost of pre-natal care to every woman seeking an abortion. For that price, there could’ve been zero abortions in 2014.

With that number in mind, would you be willing to pay that price? I know $1.7 billion seems like a lot, but in terms of the US economy, it’s pennies. The size of the US economy is measured in trillions these days. Even with respect to government spending, the defense budget alone in 2014 was $614 billion. A sum of $1.7 billion barely would’ve registered.

Even if you’re against the idea of the government spending money, on principle, that kind of money is out there in the private sector. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pharmaceutical companies alone spent over $3.7 billion in lobbying over a 10-year span.

Even religious organizations have money to spend on this issue. Back in 2015, CNN reported that the vehemently anti-abortion Vatican had over $8 billion in assets. That’s just one denomination, too. According to the Giving USA Foundation, churches received over $114 billion in tax-free charitable donations in 2014. Given that sum, is $1.7 billion really that much?

It gets even better than that, though. Abortion, as a whole, is on the decline. That means it would be even cheaper to pay the price to stop all abortions in 2018. Abortion still happens, though, and if you genuinely think abortion is murder, then there’s just one more question.

“If you’re NOT willing to pay any price to stop all abortion, then how can you say life is sacred and has intrinsic value?”

I understand that sounds like a loaded question after overly simplifying the issue. I concede that if stopping all abortions were as easy as writing a check for $1.7 billion, somebody would’ve done it by now. It’s not that easy an issue. Abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button issue if it were.

What I’m trying to get at here is that a general unwillingness to put any tangible value on life essentially undermines the arguments of the “pro-life” movement. We’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a smart phone and more than five bucks for a latte. What does it say about someone’s stance on abortion if they say life is sacred, but won’t put up any actual money for the lives they’re trying to preserve?

The March For Life demonstration, as well as most anti-abortion demonstrations, didn’t stress measures like encouraging women to carry a child to term, lowering the cost of pre-natal care, or improving contraception access so that abortions aren’t necessary. Most of it centered on favoring legislation that would make abortion more difficult to obtain.

Never mind the fact that such legislation often has some fairly detrimental effects on women’s health, as John Oliver highlighted a couple years ago. That effort doesn’t vindicate the arguments of the “pro-life” movement, nor does it even accomplish their stated goals. It’s basically a way to claim they’re winning the debate and, as I’ve pointed out before, winning a debate isn’t the same as being right.

I feel like I’ve already talked enough about abortion for one day/month/year. If I want to make one point with this article on abortion and the March For Life protest, as a whole, it’s being “pro-life” and promoting the inherent value of life is a great emotional argument. However, if there’s no substance behind that argument, then it’s not a movement that can logically sustain itself in the long run.

Now, do you understand why I put “pro-life” in quotes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why The Term “Toxic Masculinity” Should Be Retired

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

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

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

Toxic Masculinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correlation does NOT imply causation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why People Blame The Victim (And How To Avoid It)

In wake of recent social trends and lurid scandals that took way too long to expose, we’ve entered a precarious moment in our history. I’m not just talking about ongoing issues surrounding gender inequality or trends in our sexual behavior, either. We, the same people who can’t even agree on the color of a dress, have come to a rare consensus on an issue.

Blaming the victims a sexual assault is BAD.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing and rolling their eyes. I know. This feels like one of those issues that shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with. Unfortunately, it evokes all sorts of heated emotions between men, women, feminists, men’s right’s activists, the transgender community, and certain species of baboons for all I know. It’s that a very loaded, very unsexy a topic.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. In talking about the particulars victim blaming, I’m not getting behind a particular movement or agenda. I’m choosing to confront this issue for the same reason I’ve used for confronting many unsexy issues.

Issues like sexual assault, and the victim blaming that comes with it, tie directly with our sexuality and our ability to love one another, albeit on the more sinister end of the spectrum. Given my efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer, I can’t ignore these issues, nor do I want to.

I apologize if the way I go about discussing this issue offends or upsets some people. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been clumsy or misinformed with my words. However, this is one issue that nobody, be they a Hollywood producer or erotica/romance writer, should avoid. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are bad enough. Blaming the victim is just the napalm that gets dumped on that fire.

Overall, I think it’s a good thing that there’s rising awareness about sexual misconduct, especially among those in positions of power. Sure, it has been prone to a few misguided controversies, but the overall intent is good. Sexual misconduct is a serious crime. Who could possibly be against it?

That is a rhetorical question, by the way. I’ll skip the part where I recount how various internet trolls would answer that and get to victim blaming, which is where this inherently noble endeavor hits a brick wall and tries to pick a fight with it. Given that brick walls are undefeated against people armed only with profanity and alcohol, it’s a fight that tends to leave everyone bloodied.

It happened with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It happened with Corey Feldman. It will likely happen again with the next major scandal to break. At some point in the narrative, someone will imply or state outright that the victims bear some or all of the responsibility for what happened to them.

Some will say they put themselves in a bad situation. Some will say they secretly wanted it and just played the victim to score sympathy. Some will say they dressed in a way that made them deserving of it, which is especially common among those who decry beautiful women in sexy attire. There’s another term for this kind rhetoric. It’s called being an asshole.

There’s really not much context here because by every measure, blaming the victim of a crime is a pretty rotten thing to do. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or something in between, scolding someone who just endured a traumatic injustice is right up there with strangling a puppy, drop-kicking a kitten, and slitting a unicorn’s throat.

As nasty a reaction it is, there is also an underlying mechanism behind it. Some of it is tied to the flawed wiring of our caveman brains, but I would argue most of it stems from the inherent difficulty of thinking rationally when we’re in such an emotionally charged state. Given the seriousness of crimes like sexual assault, emotions are often in overdrive.

The moment we hear about sexual assault, it triggers something in our collective minds that makes us want to lash out. It’s such an egregious injustice and most decent human beings seek to right an injustice. It’s actually one of humanity’s best qualities and one of the reasons I believe people are generally good.

However, sexual assault is not like a stolen phone, a damaged house, or a black eye. You can buy someone a new phone. You can help them fix their house. You can give someone with a black eye and ice pack to help sooth their suffering. You can’t easily do that with someone who endured a sexual assault.

Many times, as was often the case with perpetrators like Bill Cosby, the injustices aren’t tangible, nor are they easy to remedy. However, we’re still appalled that such an injustice even occurred. That innate sense of justice that we have hardwired into our brains at birth urges us to right this egregious wrong.

Unfortunately, our brains are still crude instruments that can’t always tell the difference between perpetrator and victim, especially when we’re in an emotional state. As a result, we have a hard time separating the crime from the actual people involved. It’s not some shady, patriarchal agenda. It’s just a byproduct of our inherent need to maintain a just and fair world around us.

Then, there’s the extreme tribalism that comes into play. Yes, that lingering flaw from our caveman past plays a part in this too. Think back to any case involving a sex scandal, be it one involving a celebrity or someone in a position of power. Then, look at those who did the bulk of the victim blaming. Chances are they’ll have some sort of allegiance or admiration to the accused.

That makes sense because we instinctively defend members of our tribe. Whether we share a political affiliation, an ideology, or a fondness for Bill Cosby’s brand of comedy, our first reflex is to defend our tribe, even if it means turning a blind out to cold, hard facts. This is why some people will still defend men like O.J. Simpson against all evidence to the contrary.

On some levels, it’s understandable, even if victim blaming is such an egregious act. Nobody wants to believe that they’re a bad person. Some want to believe they’re the hero of their own story and the world around them is full of villains. That’s where victim blaming becomes a dick move disguised as a defense mechanism.

If anything associated with their tribe becomes affiliated with something as horrible as sexual assault, then it becomes personal for them. When it becomes that personal, then other people can only be targets. As a result, the people those victim-blamers target will, in turn, fire back with the same tactics. Again, the people become disconnected from the injustice and it just becomes a glorified shouting match.

It basically adds another injustice on top of another, turning a crime into a personal struggle to protect your tribe, identity, and certainty that you’re a decent person and those who don’t agree with you are assholes. It’s a great way to rally a tribe in the struggle for survival. In an era where false accusations and poorly-worded tweets ruin lives, it’s downright dangerous.

Within this danger, though, lies the key to confront the fuel that feeds the fires of victim blaming. It’s impossible, at least for now, to know the pain a victim feels or the veracity of an accusation. Absent that certainty, the best we can do is focus on the underlying injustices surrounding sexual assault.

Whether it’s a man exploiting his power to abuse women or a woman going out of her way to ruin a man’s life, the connective tissue to the entire issue revolves around justice. Our desire to live in a just world is one of the few things that transcends tribalism.

To illustrate how that plays out, here’s a quick scenario.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? What the hell happened? What did you do?

Do you see the disconnect there? The foundation for victim blaming is right there in the initial reaction. If the accused is someone the second person likes or respects, their first instinct will be to defend them. That’s hard to avoid and both sides can turn on each other quickly.

Now, here’s the same scenario with a key change.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? That’s terrible! Nobody should have to endure something like that.

See the difference? This time, the second person doesn’t immediately personalize the issue. He and the victim are on the same page. They both understand that this is a crime. This is an injustice. That serves as a foundation for fixing it.

I don’t deny that it’s only a minor change and one that’s difficult to utilize in every instance. That’s unavoidable for emotionally charged issues like sexual assault. However, that’s exactly why the effort is so important. Anything we can do to stay on the side of the victims and confront the larger injustices of sexual assault will be far more productive than just attacking one another.

Until we can finally upgrade our caveman brains, egregious acts like sexual assault and victim blaming will likely remain. There are many mechanisms behind it, but there are far more that transcend it. Whatever the long-term outcome of the ongoing efforts to confront sexual misconduct, we have many more reasons to come together than we do to keep casting blame.

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