Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Food For Thought: "5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men," by Greta Christina

We know the many ways sexism hurts women. But we don't talk as much about how sexism hurts men.

by Greta Christina

If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it's no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That's kind of the definition of the word.

But we don't talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism -- from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse -- it makes perfect sense that we'd care more about how sexism and patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women, than we do about how they affect men.

But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure... but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists -- and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists -- ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me: I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don't want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism... and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too -- and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun -- we're going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumpersticker a friend once had on her truck: "Feminists Fuck Better.")

So I've been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I've been looking at our society's expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I've been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you'd have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since "professional tightrope walker" is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I've been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that's not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I've been asking the men in my life -- friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet -- what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them.

Here is a list of five:

1. Fight, fight, fight! When I did my informal, unscientific poll of the men in my life and asked what was expected of them as men, this one came up a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like, an amount that took me seriously by surprise. My slice of society -- and the slice shared by most men I know -- is comfortably middle-class: educated, chatty, civilized to a fault, and mostly very peaceful. We resolve our conflicts with words, with glares, with strategies, with the law as a last resort. Even raised voices and insulting language are considered somewhat outre. Not counting sporting events, I could count on one hand the number of physical fights I've witnessed in the last decade. Or even threats of physical fights.

And yet, man after man that I talked to brought this one up. The willingness to, as my friend Michael put it, "actually, physically, with fists or other weapons, fight" -- to defend one's honor (or the honor of one's lady, or country, or sports team, or whatever) -- is more central to how men are taught to see manhood than I had any notion of. Even if conflicts never get that far -- even if you never actually have to pound anyone with your fists -- being both willing and able to do so is a weirdly high priority in the Penis Club. As Adam said, "You would rather get a concussion than be called less than a man." And Damion told me this story: "I'm in the passenger seat when my (relatively butch) sister-in-law flips off some guy in Baltimore traffic. He jumps out of the car, enraged, and my first thought is 'Great, now I've got to beat the shit out of this guy.'"

Which puts men in a nasty conundrum. The laws and expectations of our civilized society are designed to keep physical violence to a minimum. And for good reason: physical violence is, you know, destructive. So men are expected -- indeed required -- to avoid and deflect confrontation, and to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.

And when they do, they get called pussies.


2. Be a good husband/partner/lover -- but don't care too much what women think.

This one falls squarely into the category of "not just insanely rigid but logically contradictory" -- a damned if you do, damned if you don't conundrum that ensures a lifetime of self-conscious anxiety if you let yourself take it seriously. Being a good husband and father -- a good provider who cares for his family and treats women with respect -- is central to the male mythos. And being good in bed has become a crucial part of this mythos as well. It's no longer enough for a Real Man to nail a lot of women: he has to get every single one of them off. Performance anxiety -- it's not just for hard-ons anymore! Not that I have any problem with the idea that women's sexual pleasure ought to matter to men who have sex with them. The problem lies with the notion that women's sexual pleasure is entirely men's responsibility; that pleasing women ought to be completely instinctive; that women's satisfaction is a victory to be achieved instead of an experience to be shared; and that this satisfaction has to be accomplished entirely with the man's hard dick, and not with his hands or tongue or toys or mind. (But that's a rant for another time.)

Yet at the same time, men aren't supposed to care too much what women think. Years ago, when I was married to a man, we were trying to make some difficult decisions together about how to arrange our careers and lives (would he work full-time and maybe even overtime to help put me through grad school?). When he asked the guys he worked with for feedback and advice, he mostly got a load of derision for involving me too much in his decisions about his job. "Pussywhipped," I believe, was the charming terminology being used. Yes, he was supposed to be a good provider and build the financial foundation for our life... but he was somehow supposed to accomplish this without asking me what kind of life I wanted, and without any willingness to compromise about what kind of life he wanted. For himself, or for the two of us. I guess he was supposed to be The Decider.

Of course, while it was horribly unmanly for him to be guided by his wife, it was perfectly fine for him to be guided by the guys he worked with at the auto shop. As Scott said, the TV show "'King of Queens' is a good example, I think because though he tries to be a good husband and companion, he often finds himself in conflict with what his friends want or with his own sense of what should be considered masculine." Men's definitions of manhood are supposed to come from other men -- not from women. They're just not supposed to care all that much what women think of them.

You see this a lot in fashion advice for men. Men aren't supposed to look like dorks or slobs, of course... but they can't look like they care about their looks, either. Men -- straight men, anyway -- have to achieve that perfect, razor's edge balance between good grooming and carelessness. You're supposed to look good -- but those good looks have to seem effortless. Looking like you care how you look makes you look like a woman. Or a gay man. (More on that in a tic.) Women are supposed to be the ones prettying themselves up into objects of desire. Men are not supposed to be the objects of desire. They're supposed to be the subjects. And subjects aren't supposed to care what their objects think of them.

Except when they're trying to get those objects to come.


3. Be hot to trot. Always. With anybody.

This is another expectation that came up with striking (although hardly surprising) frequency. Men are supposed to want sex -- and be ready for sex -- all the time. With pretty much anyone of the right gender who makes themselves available for it. In his evaluation of male gender roles, Michael T. says, "To be a man you must use sexual conquest as a gauge for manhood." Jraoul quoted a song, Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes," with lyrics that go, "When I see her lips begging to be kissed, I can't stop, I can't stop myself... When I see a sign that she wants to make time, I can't stop, I can't stop myself...." And in his litany of male gender expectations, my friend Michael listed, "Have sex with any woman who says yes, or who offers herself. If not, I must be gay, right?"

It's weird. An intense, even predatory sexual desire is a big part of the Manly Man picture. And yet that picture doesn't allow for men to have preferences. Or rather: They're allowed and even expected to have preferences -- as long as those preferences conform with social norms. I vividly remember an article from a late '60s Playboy, analyzing men's personalities based on what kind of female bodies they liked: liking big breasts made you cool, while liking big butts or legs meant you were immature. And that's hardly a relic of the '60s: even today, lots of men feel pressured to date women who meet the current standards of female attractiveness. Lots of men, for instance, feel pressured to date fashionably thin women: even if they personally prefer women with more meat on their bones, they feel embarrassed introducing them to their buddies. Like dating a fat chick is a slam on their ego. Like it means they're not high enough on the primate status ladder to acquire a high-status mate.

So yes, men are allowed to be hotter for some girls than others. But they're still supposed to get it on with anything that moves and spreads its legs. Anything female and not grotesque, anyway. Men are expected to have sexual desire... but that desire can't be their own. It can't be idiosyncratic. Or even all that personal. It can't belong to them.

And for the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, it can't be based on emotion.

4. Stiff upper lip.

Because for men, nothing at all can be based on emotion. Generic sexual desire, and the desire to punch someone's lights out, are pretty much the only emotions men are supposed to experience. And if they have the gall (or the lack of self-control) to experience their emotions, they bloody well better not let on about it.

This one is so common, it's almost ubiquitous. At least half the men I talked to made a point about it... and a bunch of the ones who didn't mention it explicitly alluded to it in other ways. David B. says he learned that men are supposed to be "reserved emotionally. Apparently men are only supposed to be passionate about sex, cars, sports and beer. And even then, passionate is not the 'appropriate' way for a man to describe his feeling about something."

David M. got the same memo: "No whining, no complaining, and no crying." Michael T., got it, too: "To be a man you must be non emotional and disconnected." And the other Michael: "Have no emotional intelligence / don't show too many emotions." Andrew says he learned that a man "is supposed to be hard as nails and is to show no emotion." Jason learned that being a man means "not showing emotion, being 'tough' so to speak -- and that one is from peers, family and all of the above." Dean points out "the usual messages about big boys don't cry (yes, we do) and how a real man doesn't complain (yes, they do)." Scott also points to "the boys-don't-cry mantra." Ben T. says, "I hate the fact that men can't be scared of anything." James says he learned to appear emotionless so effectively that "I did not shed a single tear when my dad died during heart surgery." And Georges points out, "It always amazed me how brave I had to be to allow my feelings to show."

This one, I would argue, is more crippling than all the rest combined. I, personally, might be able to manage a life where I always had to be willing to fight or fuck; where I had to walk an impossible tightrope between caring what my partner thought without caring too much; where I had to twist myself into knots to avoid any hint that I might be attracted to people of the same sex. (See below.) But a life where I had to deny my most basic animal emotions -- love and fear, passion and grief -- just to not get treated as a gender freak? That would send me screaming 'round the bend. (More than I already am, I mean.)

5. Fear of being perceived as gay.

This is kind of a funny one. Acceptance of actual homosexuality has increased by a staggering amount in the last few decades. In less than 40 years, the LGBT rights movement has gone from fighting for our right to not be put in mental institutions and lobotomized, to fighting for our right to get legally married. (And, okay, the right to not be fired from our jobs or kicked out of the U.S. military... but still.) And social acceptance of queers has paralleled our political acceptance. If you actually are a gay man, the "Don't be even a little bit gay" message is being replaced, more and more every day, with the message, "Well... okay."

But if you're a straight man? It's a very different story. In TV shows and movies, homosexual panic is still a reliable source of comic hijinks. Wacky situations in which straight men are mistaken for gay -- Chandler and Joey on "Friends" being out together with a baby, the "Not that there's anything wrong with that" gag on "Seinfeld" -- these are a staple of modern comedy. And that staple is usually stapled to the assumption that, for straight men, being mistaken for gay is a humiliating blow to their masculinity. You see it in fashion/ dating/ etiquette advice for men, too, which often focuses to an almost hysterical degree on walking that razor- thin line between looking like an urbane, sophisticated man of the world... while still, for the sweet love of Jesus, not being mistaken for gay.

And you definitely see it in some very common male sexual fears. I've read way too many letters to way too many sex advice columns from way too many straight men saying they like -- how shall I put this delicately? -- being on the receiving end of anal pleasure... but don't want to explore this eminently delightful activity, because they're afraid it means they're gay. Or because their female partners are afraid it means they're gay. (Somewhat testy note to straight men and their female partners: No, it doesn't. Wanting a woman to fuck you in the ass does not make you gay. Any more than wanting a woman to suck your cock does. Please.)

Now, I will say that these attitudes are beginning to change. The advances of the LGBT movement have freed things up for straights as well as queers, and the younger generation is a lot more fluid and casual about sexual orientation than mine ever was. As my friend Ben pointed out, "The loosening of roles that accompanied feminism and the gay rights movement probably benefited straight men at least as much as it did women and gay men... Witness metrosexuality: now that being mistaken for gay isn't a disaster, men have more fashion leeway." And Adam, who describes himself as "effeminate, though heterosexual," says that being assumed to be gay "gave me a pass on some of the more restrictive rules of masculinity. After all, nobody really bothered to tell me to 'man up' when I sounded 'fruity' anyway."

But at the same time, as gay visibility has increased, the likelihood of being mistaken for gay has gone way, way up. And as a result, the number of opportunities for anxious, gay-panic freakouts has gone up as well. Being mistaken for gay isn't as disastrous as it once was -- it's more of a laugh line and less of a petrifying threat -- but it also happens a lot more often. And the anxiety it still creates for a lot of straight men is a lot more constant... even if it isn't as severe.

So What Now?

And I've just barely started. I don't have nearly enough space here to write the full-length novel I could write on this subject. I've skipped some of the biggest and most important gender expectations of men: the expectations of competition, of status consciousness, of financial success, strength and athleticism, leadership skills, mechanical skills, easy erectile functionality, a dehumanizing attitude towards women, giving a crap about sports. Heck, men get a clear social message that, in order to be manly, they have to be tall. What the heck are you supposed to do about that?

What the heck are any of us supposed to do about any of this?

Well, having unloaded all this depressing crap, I think it's important to deliver some good news: There are ways out of this, and around it, and through it. A lot of men I talked about this said that yes, they were certainly aware of the rigid expectations held of them as men... but they didn't personally feel hugely constrained by them. Sure, they were aware of these expectations. But they also felt comfortable rejecting them. Or embracing the parts they liked, and rejecting the parts they didn't. Or subverting them, in creative and fun and sexy ways.

And many men pointed out that, while they're certainly getting a super-sized serving of narrow, stupid cultural messages about How To Be A Man, they're also getting a decent helping of smarter, broader messages about Not Listening To That Stupid Shit. Plenty of men have gotten spiffy, role-modely lessons and examples about being non-violent, respectful of women, emotionally honest, sexually honest, and just generally their own best selves... from sources ranging from pop culture icons to their own fathers and mothers. As jraoul pointed out, "Do I think men are given rigid and/or narrow expectations about maleness? Well, sure! And we are also given fluid and/or wide ones. Depends on who's doing the giving."

Admittedly, because of my own personality and proclivities, the men in my life tend to be -- how shall we put this? -- outside the mainstream of conventional American society. ("Big nerdy pinko freaks" would be another way to put it.) And a lot of them are gay or bi, which skews the sampling even more. But just like lots of feminist women are able to laugh off the sitcoms and billboards and women's magazines and live however the frack we want, lots of feminist men are able to unload the John Wayne/Cary Grant/"What kind of man reads Playboy" crap they got loaded with -- or, depending on their generation, the Rambo/Tom Cruise/Maxim magazine crap -- and just get on with their lives.

Different people feel more affected by gender expectations than others. Some of us -- women and men alike -- still hear these voices in the back of our heads, still feel them shaping our reflexes, still see a need to consciously drag these messages into the light so we know how to recognize them and have an easier time tossing them overboard. And some folks -- again, both women and men -- feel like this is really not that big a deal. Yes, they say, society wants men to be one way and women to be another. Who cares what society wants? For some people, it takes years of introspection and therapy and processing to unload this junk. Some people never unlearn it, in fact; some people let their whole lives be run by it. And other people seem to unload it just by deciding to do it.

So I don't know what to tell you about how to do that.

All I can tell you is that it's totally worth it."


Rebel Deb

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, 19th Amendment!

Ninety years ago today, women finally won the vote.

After over seven decades of organizing and fighting in every state in the union, the 19th amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920.

Women have never taken the right to vote for granted. In fact, women repeatedly turn out to the polls in larger numbers than any other population in this nation.

And, today, not only are more women serving in our state legislatures and in Congress, but we have the first woman Speaker of the House in history.

We salute you, suffrage! Even though not all of us appreciate you as much as we should... :)

And btw, you look great for 90!

Rebel Deb

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food For Thought. Today's Topic: "10 reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong," by Mitchell Sturges

"1) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

2) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

4) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans."

So... is it love or gender that makes a marriage? Thoughts, anyone?

Rebel Deb

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Rebel Deb!

Today, I didn't feel so pretty. Today, I woke up already dreading the night. And why? Because at 8:25pm - on the dot - I would turn 29. The big 2-9. The death knoll sounding the final year of my youth.

I spent a good 10 hours roaming the beautiful, immaculate streets of Charleston, SC. I must say, this is one of the best and brightest cities I've ever visited. The first coffee shop I went into was full of smiling workers and managed by an amiable owner who offered me directions to the nearest public bathroom (I'd drunk about three cups of iced coffee by this point), simply because he didn't have one. Apparently, the closest ladies room was at City Hall (?!), which scared me at first -- I immediately imagined seedy, grimy facilities covered in seedier, grimier visitors, but no! When I got down to Meeting Street, only about three blocks on foot, it was beautiful! And the bathroom were the best part! The walls and structure were made of clean, black and white marble. The lighting was soft and pleasant. The toilets were well-kempt and profession. The whole building made of sculpted architecture that reminded me of an 18th century church. And then a nice, little ole lady came in to wash her hands and said, "Hey there, dear! How pretty you are!"

What more could a girl ask for on her 29th birthday?

Rebel Deb

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Author! Author! Arkansas Literary Festival Cocktail Reception

Hey Ya'll... Check out the pictures of the Rebel Deb's latest venture into Little Rock, Arkansas! I'm pictured here with fellow authors Georgia Anne Butler and Norb Vonnegut at this year's Arkansas Literary Festival. :)

Author! Author! Arkansas Literary Festival Cocktail Reception

Rebel Deb

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Rebel Deb's Response to the Question I'm Asked the Most: "Why Do We Even Need Feminism Anymore?"

Heard any of these excuses for why women are still raped/abused/tortured/
repressed/oppressed/objectified before? I have. And, unfortunately, mostly
from women themselves.

Does that answer your question?

Rebel Deb

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

People who do these sorts of things should be subject to their local sewage treatment facilities dumping massive quantities of urine in their homes.

Sea turtle nests vandalized at Emerald Isle

Comments 3

EMERALD ISLE -- An Emerald Isle group that works to track and monitor sea turtle nests along the town’s beach strand says recent intrusions at nesting sites appear to be intentional acts rather than random accidents.

Jim Craig, one of the co-coordinators of the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program, said they’ve seen more disturbances than usual at nesting sites this season; and the vandalism they’ve seen over the past several weeks has them asking for the public’s help in reporting any possible tampering of nesting sites.

“We’ve put out pleas to anyone will listen; we want people to be an extra set of eyes for us,” Craig said.

Sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and the 80 or so volunteers with the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program patrol the town’s 12.5-miles beach strand from May 1 through the end of August to identify nests and monitor them through the time that they hatch.

All nest sites are roped off in a 10-foot-by-10-foot square and marked with red flagging. A large metal post includes the nest number and a sign indicating it’s a federally protected species.

Craig said they see a small number of problems every season but they are typically minor and often unintentional, such as damage from someone passing by in the dark or children playing and chasing after something that goes in the nest area.

But what they’ve seen recently has included stakes pulled up, flagging torn down and one of the large sign posts removed and found several blocks down the beach.

“We don’t know who, we don’t know why, we just know it has happened,” Craig said. “Every year we see a few things torn down -- maybe someone stumbles across a stake during the night -- but when poles are being pulled up and flagging is being taken down, this is not accidental anymore.”

Craig estimates that five or so nests have been disturbed in some fashion. At this point they don’t know if any walking or trampling over the nests caused any physical harm to the eggs yet to hatch.

“We’re trying hard to protect these sea turtles, and we don’t want anything to happen to the nests,” Craig said.

It is a federal crime to tamper with the nests, he said.

Along Emerald Isle’s beach strand, 22 loggerhead nests have been identified so far this year, which is the highest they’ve seen in 10 years, Craig said.

He said there’s still the potential for a few more nests before the season ends. They saw their first hatching on July 23.

With both nesting and hatching occurring at the same time, Craig said this is a particularly active time for sea turtles on the beach, with adults and hatchlings potentially in the area at the same time.

Anyone who sees suspicious activity around nesting sites should contact the Emerald Isle Police Department at 252-354-2021.