Thursday, April 30, 2009

Justice Marshall - Calling all Heroes! A Relationship Wake-up Call for Men

This is the good stuff - where men can heal in the most important area of our lives.

29 Apr, 2009 | Written by justicemarshall

Guys - How much responsibility are you taking right now for the quality of your marriage or relationship? Choose a number. 40%? 50%? 90%?

I have news for you: Unless you are taking 100% Full Responsibility for the quality of your relationship, you are short-changing yourself and your partner.

So what does it really mean to take Full Responsibility for the quality of your relationship?

It means you are always “Able to Respond” to any situation you encounter. It means not succumbing to old habitual reactions. It means never shaming or blaming yourself or her. It means never choosing to justify your behaviour.

Perhaps more realistically, it means having a commitment that guides you, an ideal that brings you back whenever you fall.

I used to have the same fight with my wife over and over.

Under stress, I would snap at her or treat her less than kindly. Then I would justify my behaviour, pointing out how she had pushed me to my edge. She would be angry and demand reassurance that I wouldn’t treat her like that ever again. She would say that she deserved better and that she wouldn’t tolerate being spoken to like that. I would say that her demands were unreasonable and that she pushes me. I would say that if she wanted my behaviour to change, she should change her own.

And around and around we would go. Is this sounding familiar to anyone?

Well guess what. I woke up. I realized that I was dis-empowering myself and failing to provide a container of safety for my wife. Once I woke up to this fully, everything changed… overnight… literally. The benefits were incredible! I took a new kind of positive leadership in my marriage.

I became invincible… And she became my biggest fan!

When we men get in touch with our innate strength and ability (what I call our True Hero Nature), we can literally transform our relationship patterns immediately.

My loving challenge to my brothers:

Commit to taking Full Responsibility for the quality of your relationship today. If you slip, simply come back to your commitment. If you fall prey to blame, shame or justification… congratulate yourself for catching yourself in the act and come back to your True Hero Nature.

Let me know how it goes.

All My Best,
Justice Marshall

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SciAm Mind - Secrets of the Phallus: Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?

OK, a little biology lesson today on most men's favorite appendage. Seriously, who hasn't thought about this at least once?

Secrets of the Phallus: Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?

Evolutionary psychologists decipher the "Rosetta Stone" of human sexuality

By Jesse Bering

Jesse Bering

If you’ve ever had a good, long look at the human phallus, whether yours or someone else’s, you’ve probably scratched your head over such a peculiarly shaped device. Let’s face it—it’s not the most intuitively shaped appendage in all of evolution. But according to evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany, the human penis is actually an impressive “tool” in the truest sense of the word, one manufactured by nature over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. You may be surprised to discover just how highly specialized a tool it is. Furthermore, you’d be amazed at what its appearance can tell us about the nature of our sexuality.

The curious thing about the evolution of the human penis is that, for something that differs so obviously in shape and size from that of our closest living relatives, only in the past few years have researchers begun to study it in any detail. The reason for this neglect isn’t clear, though the most probable reason is because of its intrinsic snicker factor or, related to this, the likelihood of its stirring up uncomfortable puritanical sentiments. It takes a special type of psychological scientist to tell the little old lady sitting next to him on a flight to Denver that he studies how people use their penises when she asks what he does for a living. But I think labeling it as a “crude” or “disgusting” area of study reveals more about the critic than it does the researcher. And if you think there’s only one way to use your penis, that it’s merely an instrument of internal fertilization that doesn’t require further thought, or that size doesn’t matter, well, that just goes to show how much you can learn from Gallup’s research findings.

Gallup’s approach to studying the design of the human penis is a perfect example of of “reverse-engineering” as it’s used in the field of evolutionary psychology. This is a logico-deductive investigative technique for uncovering the adaptive purpose or function of existing (or “extant”) physical traits, psychological processes, or cognitive biases. That is to say, if you start with what you see today—in this case, the oddly shaped penis, with its bulbous glans (the “head” in common parlance), its long, rigid shaft, and the coronal ridge that forms a sort of umbrella-lip between these two parts—and work your way backward regarding how it came to look like that, the reverse-engineer is able to posit a set of function-based hypotheses derived from evolutionary theory. In the present case, we’re talking about penises, but the logic of reverse-engineering can be applied to just about anything organic, from the shape of our incisors, to the opposability of our thumbs, to the arch of our eyebrows. For the evolutionary psychologist, the pressing questions are, essentially, “why is it like that?” and “what is that for?” The answer isn’t always that it’s a biological adaptation—that it solved some evolutionary problem and therefore gave our ancestors a competitive edge in terms of their reproductive success. Sometimes a trait is just a “byproduct” of other adaptations. Blood isn’t red, for example, because red worked better than green or yellow or blue, but only because it contains the red hemoglobin protein, which happens to be an excellent transporter of oxygen and carbon dioxide. But in the case of the human penis, it appears there’s a genuine adaptive reason that it looks the way it does.

If one were to examine the penis objectively—please don’t do this in a public place or without the other person’s permission—and compare the shape of this organ to the same organ in other species, they’d notice the following uniquely human characteristics. First, despite variation in size between individuals, the erect human penis is especially large compared to that of other primates, measuring on average between 5-6 inches in length and averaging about 5 inches in circumference. (Often in this column I’ll relate the science at hand to my own experiences, but perhaps this particular piece is best written without my normally generous use of anecdotes.) Even the most well-endowed chimpanzee, the species that is our closest living relative, doesn’t come anywhere near this. Rather, even after correcting for overall mass and body size, their penises are about half the size of human penises in both length and circumference. I’m afraid that I’m a more reliable source on this than most. Having spent the first five years of my academic life studying great ape social cognition, I’ve seen more simian penises than I care to mention. I once spent a summer with a 450-pound silverback gorilla that was hung like a wasp (great guy, though) and baby-sat a lascivious young orangutan that liked to insert his penis in just about anything with a hole, which unfortunately one day included my ear.

In addition, only our species has such a distinctive mushroom-capped glans, which is connected to the shaft by a thin tissue of frenulum (the delicate tab of skin just beneath the urethra). Chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have a much less extravagant phallic design, more or less all shaft. It turns out that one of the most significant features of the human penis isn’t so much the glans per se, but rather the coronal ridge it forms underneath. The diameter of the glans where it meets the shaft is wider than the shaft itself. This results in the coronal ridge that runs around the circumference of the shaft—something Gallup, by using the logic of reverse-engineering, believed might be an important evolutionary clue to the origins of the strange sight of the human penis.

Now, the irony doesn’t escape me. But in spite of the fact that this particular evolutionary psychologist (yours truly) is gay, for the purposes of research we must consider the evolution of the human penis in relation to the human vagina. Magnetic imaging studies of heterosexual couples having sex reveal that, during coitus, the typical penis completely expands and occupies the vaginal tract, and with full penetration can even reach the woman’s cervix and lift her uterus. This combined with the fact that human ejaculate is expelled with great force and considerable distance (up to two feet if not contained), suggests that men are designed to release sperm into the uppermost portion of the vagina possible. Thus, in a theoretical paper published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology in 2004, Gallup and coauthor, Rebecca Burch, conjecture that, “A longer penis would not only have been an advantage for leaving semen in a less accessible part of the vagina, but by filling and expanding the vagina it also would aid and abet the displacement of semen left by other males as a means of maximizing the likelihood of paternity.”

Read the rest of the article.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The New Man - Episode 59: Yeah Dave Romanelli: The Power of Pleasure

"Yeah Dave"? Seriously? OK then.

But this is interesting - and they talk about the Washington Post Experiment -- Joshua Bell, a world class violinist who played in the subway and was barely noticed.

Episode 59: Yeah Dave Romanelli: The Power of Pleasure

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“The Power of Pleasure”

If money can’t buy happiness then where do we find it? The answer is in life’s simple pleasures. It sounds like a cliche, but the truth is that we’ve trained ourselves to multitask and split our attention across many different arenas. The cost? We don’t take the time to truly experience and enjoy our day and it’s contents.

We’re so focused on finding relief in the future that we’re forgetting about the moment we’re living in -- now.

Our culture and its expanding arena of attention-grabbers like facebook and twitter make it more challenging to just have a glass of wine or a simple meal. For instance, we’re finding it increasingly necessary to eat AND read email AND watch TV.

According to “Yeah Dave” Romanelli, a former PR agent for Shaquille O’Neill we can create a short checklist of things to focus on throughout the day -- Humor, Something Delicious and the Beauty all around us. This will ultimately have a big, positive impact.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Jeff Spicoli and Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Technology Addiction
  • Continuous Partial Attention
  • Washington Post Experiment -- Joshua Bell, violinist in the subway
  • How meditation is hard
  • Getting kicked out of a meditation retreat
  • ADHD
  • Bad energy is worse than body odor
  • The Likability Factor
  • Laughter is the way to get the panties off of a girl
  • Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead
  • India
  • Creating spaciousness in your mind creates spaciousness in your life

Monday, April 27, 2009

AlterNet - Note to Nervous Would-Be Dads: Having Kids Doesn't Look 'Gay'

Wow, had no idea there are men who think being a father is "gay." I'm a childless man, and I knew at a very young age that I was not father material, but it had nothing to do with "looking gay," or the "bros before hos" mentality (which is just offensive sounding - women are not "hos").

I think what this is really about is immaturity on the part of these men. They have Peter Pan syndrome, an unwillingness to grow up.

Note to Nervous Would-Be Dads: Having Kids Doesn't Look 'Gay'

By Vanessa Richmond, The Tyee. Posted April 27, 2009.

What is it with those men on cusp of middle age who see their masculine identity threatened by the act of fathering a child?

"Having a kid is so gay," a man told me recently. How's that for irony? Especially given that the guy is pushing 40.

It's the kind of juvenile language that only makes sense when you understand the near-hysteria about family life that exists in a new tribe of middle aged, North American males: the Baby Bailers.

Clearly, there are rational reasons to have kids and rational reasons not to, whether you're a man or a woman. And from the amount of column inches devoted to the topic lately, you might even get the idea that people like arguing about the question of to breed or not to breed more than doing it.

What we're discussing here, however, is a lot of men on cusp of middle age who, at some sub-rational and visceral level, see their masculine identity threatened by the act of fathering a child. They understand babies to be enemies of what makes it great to be a straight man. Thus, having one is "gay."

The joke may be on them. Research shows married, child-rearing fathers, relatively speaking, tend to be pretty darn happy (more on that later). And of the dozens of Baby Bailers I've heard about from friends who do "cave" (to use the word of a male friend), most tend to be glad. (I've also heard of many who didn't have kids for rational reasons and are glad they didn't). The problem is that because gender identity is involved, the struggle over "giving in" (another male friend's term) can be excruciating for both the man and the woman, and based on anything but reason.

'Bros before hos'

Who are the Baby Bailers? They are well into their 30s, even 40s. They tend to have careers, apartments (often mortgages), and even wives or long-term girlfriends. They also tend to have hobbies, which often include being in a band, playing video games, watching online porn and partying. Hobbies are great. But in this case, those hobbies, and the male friends they share them with, become the most important part of their lives because they symbolize freedom and fun. Many see having kids as a symbolic defeat: when the wife or girlfriend wins, their masculinity loses.

"Masculinity, is a homosocial experience, performed for, and judged by, other men," writes Michael Kimmel in Guyland. A professor of sociology at SUNY Stony Brook, credited with founding (fathering?) man's studies, Kimmel sums up the "guy" phenomenon with the phrase "bros before hos." His recent book looks at men aged 16 to 26, but says, with a few differences, the analysis also applies to men in their late 30s and 40s who are resisting the symbolic end fatherhood would bring to their "guy" status.

According to Nicholas Townsend, who conducted an extensive ethnography on middle class masculinity, four things make someone a grown up man: being employed and a good worker, owning a home, being a spouse and, finally, being a father.

Most embrace the first two easily, then start to resist. "Growing up is the negation of fun, pleasure, happiness and sexiness, which is all based on the fantasy idea that adulthood is a loss for men," says Kimmel. "Boyhood is fun, but adulthood is sober and responsible."

He says these guys are able to juggle serious careers, mortgages and even relationships with the pursuit of "boyishness" because to them, it's like balancing work and family. The idea is, "If I'm going to capitulate and have a real job and a real apartment, I still want to feel like a guy. So I'm going put my feet up on the table, fart in public, do raunchy things, and say sexist things with my friends, because [in] the workplace... I have to watch what I say all the time and what I do. I can't make fag jokes or girl jokes there."

So guys try to prolong their post-adolescent male bonding pleasures and their kind of fantasy locker room world though activities like video games and online porn. "The thing that's interesting is that they are pretty unapologetic about it. Ten to 15 years ago, guys who watched porn and played video games, they were a bit sheepish and guilty about it. Now, they're saying -- so what?"

Bailers I've interviewed often say they're "not ready" to have a baby, that they just need a few more years. This can seem humourous coming from a man in his 40s. The listener begins to calculate that micro-sliver of time between fatherhood's "ready" and "expiry" dates. As one 51-year-old dad told me, "I have to take a few ibuprofen just to be able to make coffee in the morning. I'm not exactly looking to do a 3 a.m. poo call." He has two kids, the eldest of which is 14, and feels like he "just got it done in time." He explained, "You know like in the movie, where the character races ahead of the fireball, with the huge iron door closing, and at the last second, he dives under the door and it closes on his shoe? Like that." I guess that's what the ibuprofen's for.

But, according to Kimmel, the Baby Bailers "believe that a grown-up relationship, with a grown-up woman, is a loss... And what is lost is fun," whatever the age.

When they flick on the TV, they see their fears reinforced. Shows like Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother and Rules of Engagement "basically portray singleness as fun and married life as a kind of compromise at best, and drudgery at worse," says Kimmel. Consider, as well, pre-wedding rituals. "When a woman is getting married, her friends take her out to celebrate. When a man is getting married, his guy friends take him out for an elegiac last night of freedom, to get him drunk and laid, because he'll never get to do that again: she's trapped you, she's caught you."

But that myth contradicts the data, according to Kimmel: married men are much happier than unmarried men. In many cases, they gain a chef, a laundress and a sex partner. Married men have much more sex than unmarried men and are less likely to see therapists than unmarried ones. (Married women, on the other hand, tend to have lower happiness levels and are more likely to see therapists than unmarried ones).

"The more men are sort of grown up -- the more they do housework and child rearing -- the happier they are, the happier the kids are, and the happier the woman is," says Kimmel.

Don't tell that the Baby Bailer, and don't expect the expanding brood of macho Brad Pitt to hold sway. As one Baby Bailer told me, the rich dad is different. "They don't have to give anything up. They can just hire people to do everything, and still have fun and have a life."

"Giving things up," is a dreaded concept I've hear a lot in my conversations with Baby Bailers.

But Neal Pollack, author of Alternadad, a book about his quest to retain his identity after becoming a father, says "My wife and I played more video games than ever the first six months after our kid was born. I mean, all the kid is doing is eating and crapping. Any dad who is a gamer before is still a gamer."

And though it's harder to go out with friends as much, "if they're real buddies they'll still be there."

"Men are afraid that fatherhood is going to take over their identity. And it does for a little while, but if they want to, they can integrate fatherhood into their previous identity." Pollack found the first couple of years to be "an emotional maelstrom," but now finds his old self is still there.

It doesn't help that men get a lot of messages that their old self must transform into some kind of uber-father they never knew. UBC sociologist Nathanael Lauster says expectations are increasing. While people used to put their baby in a drawer in a bedroom of a rental apartment a few decades ago with full social sanction, now elaborate staging is often considered necessary: a house with yard (what he calls "the moral home"), a car, expensive strollers, baby clothes, nannies and so on. That's why he says affluent men might be more willing to become fathers -- since they know they can afford those "requirements." Plus, Lauster says affluent men they have less fear of being labeled a "deadbeat dad," a term men can acquire for contributing insufficient money or even time.

For every Baby Bailer who worries he'll need to work harder, there's one so immersed in his career that he's terrified of sacrificing it to the new definition of family life. "At one point," Lauster says, "there wouldn't be this idea that men would have to give up work to become a father. Men would actually intensify their work commitments than they would prior to have children and that's how they would demonstrate their commitment." Exhibit A: the 1960 version of father portrayed as Don Draper on Mad Men.

But a note to Baby Bailers: Evidence suggests that men's work performance can actually increase after becoming a father. "There's the myth of the unencumbered worker," says Kimmel. "That worker is gendered and it's male. We think those are the best employees -- they have no trouble making it to a 7 a.m. meeting, or staying late. But when you're a parent, you're far more reliable and far more likely to remain loyal to the company, especially if the company is flexible."

But hey, there I go again, engaging in rational talk about something as fundamentally emotion driven as gender identity. There's a commercial for the Hummer SUV, in which a bunch of guys is working out at the gym, and an announcer asks the man with the white mini van, the symbolic family vehicle, to come forward as he's left his lights on. No one does. Kimmel says the message is, "You henpecked, feminized pussy."

So it's social forces, I get it. But I'm thinking if "gay" means a grown up man, well, heterosexual breeding culture could really use some.

Live Science - Basis for Male Promiscuity Questioned

Interesting article that disputes the idea that men are naturally more promiscuous than women. Turns out that fruit flies aren't the best model for predicting human behavior. In reality, though one has to wonder if there isn't more truth to this idea regardless of this article. Men have been known to father lots of children - mostly outside of marriage. However, this is a pattern that seems true mostly of the poorer classes and the wealthiest classes.

Basis for Male Promiscuity Questioned

Males are promiscuous and females are selective when choosing a mate, biologists have said for decades. But a new study finds it might not be that simple.

The study, published in this month's issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, evaluated data on 18 populations - from Pitcairn Islanders to the Dogon of Mali - and found that on average, the variance in the number of children is greater for men than for women. This is about what you'd expect on the basis of long-time theory.

However, Gillian R. Brown, a professor at the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews and the study's lead researcher, says that the research also found big differences among populations on the patterns of reproductive success for men and women.

For example, the study cites societies in Botswana, Paraguay and Tanzania in which women - not just men - conceive children with multiple partners.

Brown's study challenges the research of Angus J. Bateman, who in 1948 conducted a study on the mating habits of fruit flies. Bateman found that male flies had greater variance, and success, in both their number of sexual partners and their number of offspring than did females.

Because eggs are harder to come by than sperm, Bateman said, a female fly's offspring were restricted by her ability to produce eggs; meanwhile, a male fly's reproductive success was limited only by the number of females he inseminated.

In subsequent years, the fruit-fly finds were applied to other species, including humans. But Brown's research shows that in some populations, Bateman's work - in particular, his findings regarding offspring - doesn't necessarily hold true.

"Evidence for sex differences in variation in reproductive success alone does not allow us to make generalizations about sex roles, as numerous variables will influence [Bateman's findings] for men and women," Brown writes.

Population size is one such variable: both men and women will be selective about mates when there are lots of options - in a large city, for example. Conversely, neither gender will be choosy in low-population areas. In such a scenario, both men and women will take what they can get.

"We argue that the more flexible and variable human behavior is, the less powerful their explanation in terms of universal sex roles," Brown tells LiveScience. "Males and females should perhaps not be characterized in the way normally presented by evolutionary psychologists ... the idea that we can predict everything about human sex roles on the basis of the differential costs of producing eggs and sperm is simplistic."

Brown's research also addresses the issue of reproduction within a monogamous partnership; while only 16 percent of societies have monogamous marriage systems, they make up a large percentage of relationships in the developed world. In such societies, variances in male and female reproductive success were similar. Furthermore, in half of the world's polygamous marriages - which account for 83 percent of the world's societies - less than 5 percent of men take more than one wife.

Brown is careful to point out that the research didn't include data on the actual number of people's sex partners. Here is why: the studies reporting these statistics are scientifically unsound, she said, which helps explain the mathematical difficulties in research that finds that men have more sex partners than women. (One such study, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, claims that men have an average of seven sex partners during their lifetime, while women have four.)

"[The reported numbers are] logically impossible if we're assuming these are heterosexual interactions and that all individuals have been questioned," Brown says. "We were particularly interested in asking whether the variance (not average) in mating success differs between men and women, but questionnaire studies don't seem to be a sufficiently reliable source of evidence."

Indeed, past research has shown that not only do people lie on such surveys, but that they admit their lies minutes later.

Hard statistical evidence is easy to gather from fruit flies, but the application of the resulting data to the more complex sexual dynamic of humans does not necessarily, er, bear fruit.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grant Stoddard: Men Have It Worse

Do men really have it worse? I'd agree that men are more uptight now than we have been in decades. But are we more "oppressed" than women? Good question - Grant Stoddard thinks we are. This comes from The Daily Beast, which is rapidly becoming one of the more interesting (though conservative) blogs on the web.
Grant Stoddard: Men Have It Worse

BS Top - Sexual Latitude MEN

The author of Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert says men suffer more from the classic sexual double-standard more than women. Plus, read Susannah Breslin's rebuttal.

A new Canadian study portends that men have societal constraints placed on their sexual repertoire whilst women are enjoying an era of growing acceptance of almost any theatricality between, on top of, or, increasingly, completely divorced from the sheets. It’s taken the participation of 104 undergrads in a University of Saskatchewan study to determine something I’ve known for quite some time: While I’m supposed to honor requests to slap, restrain, throttle, and enable any Sapphic whim a woman may wish to actualize, a libidinous digression from me means putting an already tattered reputation on the line. Technically speaking, I’m a man, and as such, I’m obligated to keep it simple.

What was playful, de rigueur fun for a woman becomes a rather more complex proposition when suggested by a man—one that could see him at odds with his peers and ostracized from the dating pool.

From 2001 to 2004 I wrote an immersive, pseudo-anthropological column about fringe sexuality for In the years since, a lot of the activities I wrote about have been brought out of the shadows into the sexual lexicon, enjoyed by people who don’t belong to a sexual subculture or have made a deliberate lifestyle choice. Furthermore, this trend doesn’t seem to be driven by men. The ubiquity of pornography, celebrity sex tapes, a decrease in the collective attention span— I can only guess what the causes are, but over the past decade girls have been, in my experience, getting freakier, particularly in more casual hook-ups.

Though I personally find some of these behaviors, amusing, icky, or occasionally mildly upsetting, I applaud and am inspired by the explorative and uninhibited attitude women are embodying in their sexual conduct. I don’t try to psychoanalyze or pass judgment; I dutifully do what I’m told to the best of my abilities and within the confines of federal law. But what would happen if I asked for what remains of my hair to be pulled, my ass slapped, or to be called a string of nasty names that refer to my undiscerning promiscuity? What if I suggested we invite another gentleman into a sexual act with a female partner? What was playful, de rigueur fun for a woman becomes a rather more complex proposition when suggested by a man—one that could see him at odds with his peers and ostracized from the dating pool.

So women seem to have carte blanche to express every hue of their sexuality. This is in addition to being able to pick and choose male sexual partners at will. Paradoxically, it’s resolutely acceptable for a woman to be uninterested in having sex at a moment’s notice. On several occasions I’ve been invited back to girls’ apartments in the early hours of the morning, ostensibly for intercourse. On a few of those occasions, upon arriving at their respective stoops, I’ve had second thoughts and declined their kind offer. Their befuddled expressions implored me to explain myself. When I didn’t, they verbalized their need for an explanation: “I’m allergic to cat dander,” I say. Or: “I have to pick up my parents from the airport.” “I have to cram for a real-estate exam.” In truth, I simply wasn’t wasn’t feeling like having sex with them or anybody else, and for no reason in particular.

Each of these incidents incited the miffed woman to disseminate mild hearsay about my sexual orientation or general oddness. On the many, many occasions when a woman has declined sex with me, no explanation was necessary. I just ran off into the night. I didn’t immediately cite their closeted homosexuality or some sort of sex-related trauma. I respected their good judgment and thought about getting some lifts in my shoes or doing more push-ups. And that’s the tragedy.

At 21, ungainly wallflower Grant Stoddard came to the United States from England in pursuit of true love. After eighteen months of couch-surfing and heartbreak, he stumbled into a job at as New York's most intrepid sex columnist, despite having little experience in either sex or writing. His memoir, Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert (Harper Perennial) has been optioned by Paramount Vantage. He currently resides in British Columbia, Canada.

In the interest of balance, here is the opposing point of view, from Susannah Breslin, also at The Daily Beast.

Women Have It Worse

by Susannah Breslin

BS Top - Sexual Latitude WOMEN

The author of the blog Reverse Cowgirl and noted sex writer says promiscuous women still suffer from the classic sexual double-standard more than men who can’t get laid. Plus, read Grant Stoddard’s rebuttal.

For years, it’s been widely held that women have been accorded far less freedom of sexual expression than men. If a woman is too sexually adventurous, too promiscuous, too “freaky” in the sack, she gets labeled a slut. In contrast, men have been lauded for their sexual prowess, “high-fived for wantonness,” accorded “player” status for acting like studs.

Now the tables have turned, the study claims, and it’s women who are granted more freedom to experiment sexually, and men who are expected to fulfill their sexual stereotype. God help the oversexed frat boy who wants to get freaky. Whether it’s homoerotic fantasies, cross-dressing, or sadomasochism, only women are socially “permitted” to partake in exploring sexuality, the study finds, whereas guys must adhere to what’s expected of them. But has this study got it right—or totally wrong?

Take a look at the young women who write openly about their sex lives online, and what you’ll find is that trailing along behind them is a line of rabid attackers looking to punish them for doing so.

Having spent the last decade writing about sex, I’ve talked to all kinds of people about their sex lives, from the professional dominatrix to the girl next door, the stud-for-hire to the married john, the college student to the adult-film star. Over the years, the mainstreaming of pornography, the rise of the Internet, and the single-handed crotch-flashing efforts of Britney Spears have brought sex to the forefront of public discourse like never before. Yet, despite all this “progress,” I’ve found that it’s women who remain subjected to the sexual double-standard. The evidence is written across the Internet.

Take a look at the young women who write openly about their sex lives online, and what you’ll find is that trailing along behind them is a line of rabid attackers looking to punish them for doing so. The more high-profile among them spawn lightning-rod debates as they reveal their sexual proclivities in provocative blog posts and graphic cellphone pics. When Lena Chen, a Harvard student and sex blogger, posted a shot of her face after oral sex, Gawker pronounced it the “Worst Overshare Anywhere Ever”—and republished the “horribly oversharey” photo (it was later cropped to a thumbnail). It’s as if when women choose to exercise their sexual freedoms, men can’t quite figure out whether to love them or hate them for it.

What, exactly, are these women being ostracized for—being sexual, experimenting sexually, or having the guts to put themselves out there as representatives of a generation of a women who don’t want to fit into preconceived boxes of “how they’re supposed to be” in bed? It’s a mix of all of the above, but the consequences remind everyone that if women go public with their sexuality, if they go “too far,” if they become sexual “players” whose “numbers” threaten to outdo the bedpost notches of their Don Juan peers, they’ll catch heat for it.

Sure, women are freer to explore their sexuality—as long as it doesn’t threaten the male status quo. Tucker Max’s sex-and-brews fratire biopic, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, will be released later this year, but don’t expect to find the chronicles of a sexually emancipated post-feminist coming to theaters near you anytime soon.

Susannah Breslin is a freelance journalist and blogger. Currently, she is at work on a novel set in the adult movie industry.

What do you think?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sexual Harassment From Males Prevents Female Bonding

Interesting article from Medical News Today. Male harassment of women does not impact only the woman harassed, it also impacts her relationships with others, and those of other women who witness it. Of course, this study involved guppies, so human results might vary.

Seriously, though, this makes sense intuitively.

Sexual Harassment From Males Prevents Female Bonding, Says Study

Main Category: Women's Health / Gynecology
Also Included In: Psychology / Psychiatry
Article Date: 23 Apr 2009 - 1:00 PDT

The extent to which sexual harassment from males can damage relationships between females is revealed in a study published today (Wednesday 22 April). Led by the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research uncovers the effect of sexual harassment on the ability of female fish to form social bonds with each other.

The study focused on guppies, a popular aquarium fish, in which scientists have previously observed a very high level of sexual harassment from males towards females. The researchers found that male harassment not only breaks down female social structures but also affects females' ability to recognise one another.

The research provides the first insight into the effect of male sexual harassment on female social networks and social recognition. The findings could have relevance to other species.

Lead author Dr Safi Darden of the University of Exeter explains "Sexual harassment is a burden that females of many species ranging from insects to primates suffer and the results of our work suggest that this harassment may limit the opportunities for females to form social bonds across a range of species"

The research team worked with a population of wild guppies in Trinidad, isolating the females and introducing males to change the sex ratio and examining the effect of males on female social behaviour. They carried out a number of experiments on each group to test the females' ability to recognise their peers and form bonds with other members of the group.

The study showed that, after experiencing a high level of sexual harassment, females were less able to recognise the other females in the group. They were also more likely to form bonds with new females, introduced from outside their network.

Co-author Dr Darren Croft of the University of Exeter said "This is an extremely interesting result as it appears that females that experience sexual harassment actually prefer to avoid other females with whom they associate the negative experience."

Those females that were grouped without males were better able to recognise one another and also showed a preference for females from within, rather than outside, the group.

Dr Safi Darden adds: "The health and well-being of an individual is dependent, in part, on having strong social bonds with others and females that have weakened social bonds may be less likely to survive in the wild. This makes the effect of male harassment quite significant, but it is an area that has not previously been studied."

The researchers do not know exactly why sexual harassment from males has such a marked effect on female social interaction. However, it is possible that the sheer amount of time spent by females dealing with unwanted male attention prevents them from forming relationships with other females. They believe females from groups with more males may have bonded with females from outside in order to try to establish themselves in a more favourable environment.

The study was carried out by the Universities of Exeter, Bangor and Bath and the University of the West Indies St Augestine and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Source: Sarah Hoyle, University of Exeter

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nikhil Rao - What Your Doc Doesn't Know About Weightlifting

From T-Nation, Nikhil Rao tells you What Your Doc Doesn't Know About Weightlifting - and he's a resident in psychiatry studying the relationship between exercise and nutrition and mental health.

I've had some serious issues with doctors over the years.


"Creatine is a steroid." Excuse me, but you DO have a medical degree, yes? And you don't know that creatine is an amino acid complex? Uh, can I get a second opinion?

"There's nothing you can do to make a broken bone heal faster." Oh really? So all that healing and calcium accretion that has already occured as a result of weight bearing exercise is an illusion?

"Weight lifting is bad for your back." No shit? So why haven't I had any serious back injuries since I started doing deadlifts and squats, but before then I f**ked up my back big-time just picking up a magazine off the floor?

Anyway, I digress.
What Your Doc Doesn't Know About Weightlifting

Sir William Osler, the founder of modern medicine, once remarked that "The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism."

It's kinda ironic, then, that the field of medicine is so ignorant—and so dogmatic—when it comes to exercise and nutrition. It's not hard to see where it comes from. Pride. Hubris even.

Medicine is one of the most demanding fields in the world. After 8 years of college and medical school, I'll be taking my Hippocratic oath in a couple of weeks. And then I still have 6 years of residency training ahead of me. Some of my classmates have even more. That's a lot of time, a lot of studying, and a lot of effort.

And the responsibility? Every day we make life or death decisions. Every time we examine a patient we have a chance to pick up—or miss—a sign or symptom of a disease that could take our patient's life or cause irreparable damage to their health. We are among the best and brightest, the most highly educated, and most influential people in the world. Hard not to let that go to your head.

Medicine is ultimately about authority and knowledge. We know more about the human body in health and disease, and hold more responsibility for it, than anyone else.

Contrast this with science, which is ultimately about ignorance. Science moves forward when we look to what we don't know, and try to figure it out.

Needless to say, finding ignorance is one of the most important lessons a scientist can learn. In fact, one could say that is the sole duty of a scientist. Doctors learn a lot about what science has revealed about the human body. But they aren't trained to be scientists, or to think like them. A doctor knows what he or she knows, and that's the end of it.

Doctors have a lot of opinions on diet and exercise. Weight training isn't healthy. Weight training hurts your heart. You'll destroy your joints. Squats are bad for the knees. Deadlifting is bad for the back. You should only do light weight and high reps. You're too heavy and will die of heart disease and diabetes unless you lose some weight. You're destroying your kidneys with all that protein. Creatine is bad for you. The only exercise you need is cardio.

I could go on for days. Most of us have heard it. A lot of us don't pay too much attention. Some of us do, and change the way we work out. And almost all of us wonder just how true these things are, if we really are destroying our bodies in the quest for strength and physical perfection. The real question is, how much attention should we pay to these experts?

Like I said, medical education is extremely intense, and extremely broad. It has to be. That said, there is a lot it doesn't cover. We learn the atomic structure of every amino acid (most of us promptly forget all of this after the biochemistry final). We learn the equations for cardiovascular physiology. We learn the branches of every nerve, the origin and attachment for every muscle in the human body.

But we don't learn the basics of healthy nutrition. We don't learn about cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations and responses to exercise. We don't learn about how insulin facilitates the utilization of protein and creatine.

We don't even learn what all of those muscles in the body actually do. We don't learn about the difference between myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Or the training effect of high versus low reps.

Heck, most doctors aren't even aware of the concept of High Intensity Interval Training, let alone how much more effective it is than steady-state cardio.

And yet doctors think that their opinions on eating right and exercising actually matter. I honestly don't know whether to laugh or cry about it. All of those years of school, and everything I know about exercise and nutrition I had to teach myself. A lot of it coming from right here at TMUSCLE. And most of my colleagues don't see why I make such a big deal about it. There's nothing else to call it but pathetic.

What I'm hoping to do in this article, and possibly future ones, is deal with some of these issues where doctors have it all wrong; sometimes because of the field's ignorance about exercise physiology and nutrition, and sometimes because they don't understand the limits of their own knowledge.

The following are just a few examples of things they've got wrong.

Body Composition

Most of the guys on this website are 'overweight' or even 'obese' according to the BMI. There are a lot of dramatic studies out there about the health risks of being too heavy, from heart disease to stroke to cancer to dementia. I don't think that's a point of much contention. Being fat is bad for you.

The real question is whether or not the BMI is a decent tool for assessing how fat you are. It seems like every other time I go to the doctor's office he (or his nurse) brings up my BMI of 29 and suggests I lose weight.

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, it's been a while since I saw the bottom two cans in my six-pack, and my love handles actually have names, but if it weren't for my gluteal muscles these 32" pants would fall right off. I'm pretty sure my 'borderline obesity' has more to do with the fact that I can barely stuff myself into a size 48-suit coat than it does a dangerous level of body fat.

When a well-muscled individual brings up this point, doctors often reply that "Okay, yeah, it doesn't work for people with a lot of muscle, but it works just fine for the general population."

Does it? Does it really??? I have my doubts. After all, the BMI consists of ONLY your height and your weight, and pretty much ignores everything else, like bones and lean body mass, which can be highly variable even within the so-called 'normal' population.

Some researchers at the Mayo Clinic had doubts of their own, with good reason as it turns out.(1) When they assessed the diagnostic performance of BMI using the World Health Organization reference standard 25% (body fat) for men and 35% for women, they found that only 36% percent of obese men actually had a BMI of over 30. The majority of people carrying around unhealthy amounts of fat actually had 'normal' or 'overweight' BMIs.

If that wasn't bad enough, it turns out that in people with a BMI of less than 30, it actually correlates better to lean body mass than it does body fat percentage. A study by a different group in Canada found similar results.(2)

So using the BMI doesn't work so well for the 'normal' population either. As if failing to identify two thirds of the people that need to lose weight weren't bad enough, this also means that literally decades of population studies on the health risks of obesity are also largely invalid.

Most people with a BMI over 30 are indeed 'obese'. But almost half of the population with a BMI less than 30 is also 'obese'. Which means most of these studies are drastically underestimating the health risks of obesity. This isn't so much of a concern for those of us in MMA, lighter weight classes, or mostly in it for physique. But for the powerlifters and strongmen out there who do carry around their fair share of adipose tissue, it means that those extra pounds are MORE dangerous than you or your doctor realize.

Lastly I want to touch on lean body mass. A lot of studies have found what many doctors think of as a 'paradoxical' effect in which people in the 'overweight' BMI range (25-29.9) actually tend to live longer, have less heart disease, be more likely to survive cancer, and have less disability.

Studies that have compared BMI to body fat and lean body mass have found that people in the 'overweight' range weren't necessarily any fatter than people in the so-called 'normal' range; rather, their extra mass came from lean tissue. So contrary to what your doctor says about all that extra muscle you're carrying around, your weight training is probably doing more for you than all that running is doing for a marathoner.

But that doesn't mean higher lean body mass doesn't have its downsides. Injuries come with the territory when you push yourself in the gym. That excess mass and the heavy weights do put more strain on your joints, although this is counterbalanced by the fact that your muscles bear more of the load and your connective tissue less. The more weight you carry around, the harder your heart has to work.

More muscle means a faster metabolism, and thus less chance of dementia, diabetes, and heart disease. But it also means more free radicals and potentially more inflammation, which means more stress on your endocrine system, cardiovascular system and brain, and possibly higher rates of cancer.

So is there a point of diminishing returns? Is there a point where you have 'too much' muscle? Probably. But because long-term population research has only used the BMI, we have no idea what point that is.

The BMI has outlived its usefulness. Not only in well-muscled individuals, but in everyone. You wouldn't let someone do stiff-legged deadlifts with locked knees and a round back, and you shouldn't let people judge their own health status and weight-loss goals based on BMI either.

Tell them to try a Tanita monitor, skinfold testing, or DEXA instead. Something this entrenched and this insidious needs to be attacked at every level by every person in the know. Spread the word.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is among the most common chronic diseases out there. And even though there aren't any symptoms, it can have devastating effects on your kidneys, your brain, and your heart.(3) Which is why it's called the 'silent killer'. And is one of the reasons your doctor almost always checks your blood pressure, regardless of the reason for your visit.

The medical profession is absolutely justified in the time, resources, and intensity with which we attack hypertension. But, like the BMI (although orders of magnitude better), our method of measuring blood pressure is less than perfect.

If you really do have high blood pressure, it's vital that you get it treated. But what if you don't? Whether it's the inconvenience, the cost, or the side effects, no one wants to take pills if they don't have to. A more pragmatic concern has to do with health insurance. In this era of medical underwriting and denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, the last thing you want is for the label of 'hypertension' to follow you around in your medical charts for the rest of your life.

Back to blood pressure measurement. The only accurate way to measure blood pressure is to take a catheter with a pressure transducer on the tip and thread it up through an artery into your aorta. Not terribly convenient. Or fun. Which is why we use the blood pressure cuff.

In really sick patients, though, we often do monitor the blood pressure directly through a catheter. In my limited experience, novice physician that I am, most of the time the arm cuff agrees with the intra-arterial blood pressure measurement. But that isn't always the case.

Error can come from the cuff itself. Too small a cuff will give too high a reading. A standard cuff tops out at around 14-15" of arm circumference, conservatively. But most of the people we use the larger cuffs on are rather gifted in adiposity.

It often doesn't occur to health professionals that a lean arm can simply be too big for the cuff. Even when I tell them ahead of time that the regular cuff is too small, they'll often insist on trying it first.

Now in me, the regular cuff either completely fails to get a reading, or reads such an absurd pressure that they give up and get the large cuff. But in many, with a cuff slightly too small, it'll just give the kind of reading you'd expect in someone with hypertension. It's still a false positive. So if I were you, I'd ask for them to take a reading with the larger cuff if the regular cuff gives a high value.

The second problem comes from the fact that you've got muscle and fat surrounding that artery, so the reading on the cuff is actually a result of how the pressure gets transmitted from the artery through the fat and muscle.

Fat, being very compressible, can act like a sponge or a shock absorber, leading to falsely low measurements. In fact, I once had a patient that was so morbidly obese, no one in the office was able to get a blood pressure reading from the upper arm. We had to use the forearm. Muscle, on the other hand, is very firm, and can actually lead to higher than expected readings.

This is known as 'spurious systolic hypertension' (SSH).(4) In most people with high blood pressure, both the high (systolic) and low (diastolic) number are elevated (systolic >140 and diastolic >90).

Some people present with what's called 'isolated systolic hypertension' (ISH). In this condition, only the high number is elevated. Most commonly we see this in older people, and we think it's because their arteries aren't as elastic as they are in younger people, due to breakdown of the connective tissue calcium deposits in the walls of the arteries.

People with SSH tend to be young and have no major health risk factors (obesity, smoking, high cholesterol etc). In other words, nothing like the people we normally see ISH in. They tend to be different from normotensive people of the same age only in that they have a higher BMI and are more likely to engage in athletics.(5) SSH most likely has nothing to do with blood pressure and everything to do with the anatomy of a muscular individual's arm.

So if you're getting a high blood pressure reading, first check the cuff size, and then look at your diastolic number. If it's lower than 90, chances are you have SSH and don't need either the label of hypertension or a medication.

Kidney Function

It's common dogma among physicians that high protein diets are bad for your kidneys. Dr. Lowery here at TMUSCLE has beaten that idea pretty much to death recently.(6) So I won't get in to too much detail here on that. But the bottom line is that high protein intake may be harmful to your kidneys, and it may not be. We have literally no evidence to go on one way or the other. So your doctor pretty much doesn't have a leg to stand on when he tells you that you're killing your kidneys.

The notion that protein is harmful comes from studies of people with damaged kidneys—people with either chronic renal insufficiency (CRI) or chronic renal failure (CRF). In these people there's no doubt about it. The higher your protein intake, the faster your kidney disease is going to worsen.

It makes sense when you think about it. These are people whose kidneys can't even keep up with the basic demands their bodies place on them. Increasing the demand on the kidneys above that basal state can't possibly be good. But can we extend that principle to people with normal and healthy kidneys? There's no reason to think we can, and a lot of reasons to think we can't.

The kidneys are remarkably robust organs with a lot of excess capacity. In fact, you have to lose about 75% of the functioning units (nephrons) in your kidneys before we even see changes in your kidney function tests. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the kidney can dramatically increase its filtration rate from the resting state in a healthy adult.

An analogous situation occurs with the heart. In a healthy adult, HIIT, or any kind of cardio for that matter, is good for your heart. But take someone with heart failure, or severe coronary artery disease. It's probably not a good idea for them to start running stair laps.

Heck, that's why all the ED drugs have disclaimers to ask your doctor if it's safe for you to have sex. If you take an already weakened heart and stress it, bad things can happen. But you don't see doctors recommending healthy people avoid exercise, do you?

Our next concern regarding kidneys is the blood tests doctors use to determine how well they're functioning. There are two numbers in particular we're interested in: Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine (Cr).

BUN is a waste product of protein metabolism. Creatinine is a breakdown product from the creatine phosphate found in your muscles, heart and brain. Doctors normally check these values with a simple blood test, which tells them the concentration of each.

Here's where things get tricky—and where doctors can make wrong assumptions. The concentration of these substances in your blood is affected by multiple factors, only one of which is kidney function. BUN concentration changes with your hydration status (low when you're well-hydrated, high when your dehydrated).

It also changes in response to how much protein you're digesting and turning over. The more protein you take in, the higher your BUN is going to be.

Creatinine on the other hand is a lot more stable. It's produced at a relatively constant rate; higher or lower depending on how much muscle you have, due to the constant process of muscle breakdown and rebuilding.

As such, the concentration in your blood has a lot to do with how much lean body mass you have. That said, there are certain things that can make your creatinine spike. Severe infections or other stressors increase muscle breakdown as a consequence of the cortisol and inflammatory hormones coursing through your body. For the same reason, a particularly intense workout or competition can do the same thing.

There is a 'normal range' for each of these things. And people with blood levels of BUN and Cr that are outside of this range often do have kidney problems.

On the other hand, there are a heck of a lot of weight trainers that end up seeing abnormal values in their bloodwork, which can set them and their doctors to freaking out.

But these 'normal' ranges are based on the assumption that you're 'normal' when it comes to all of those other factors I just discussed. Higher protein intake means a higher BUN. Higher lean body mass means a higher blood Cr. Greater physical stressors (and consequent increase in creatine turnover) means a higher Cr. Do you think any of these factors apply to T-Men? Darn right they do.

So your blood test comes back and your renal function tests indicate a possible problem. The doctor calls you in a panic, telling you that you've murdered your kidneys with all that protein and creatine and you need to stop them now. What do you do?

Well, your doctor's just overextended himself. He actually has no clue how your kidneys are doing and neither do you. But it's okay, because we do have the tools to directly calculate how well your kidneys are working, we just don't use them very often.

But it's going to need a piss test. One heck of a piss test. Twenty-four hours' worth of pee in an opaque jug to be exact. You see, the only way to figure out if your kidneys are filtering waste products well enough is to see how much they're excreting. Seems like common sense, doesn't it?

What I would do is ask to do a direct creatinine clearance measurement. You're going to want to hold off on working out for a couple days—which will drop your creatine down to the basal level from simple muscle turnover—but I wouldn't stop taking protein and creatine.

After you've given your system time to clear out any possible stress-related increase in creatinine production, come back in for another blood test and to grab the jug. The lab will compare your blood concentration of Cr to the amount in your urine. This will tell us exactly how well the kidney is disposing of waste, and allow us to control for all those ways in which you're 'abnormal'.

Like I said, it could turn out that your kidneys really are in rough shape. But more than likely it's just the fact that you get more protein and have more muscle than most.


Einstein once remarked, "It is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. Thus their excessive authority will be broken."

You wouldn't be here if you didn't take your health seriously. That, and your love of iron, makes you abnormal. Which means sometimes you won't fit the model other people use to judge you, whether it's figuring you for a mindless meathead or determining the state of your health.

It's important to understand the assumptions on which doctors base their thinking. Sometimes the assumptions make no sense at all (as with BMI) and at other times, you're just different enough from a 'normal' person that 'normal' methods just won't apply.


1. Romero-Corral A. et al. Accuracy of Body Mass Index in Diagnosing Obesity in the General Adult Population. International Journal of Obesity 2008. 32(6):959-966.

2. Kennedy AP et al. Comparison of the Classification of Obesity by BMI vs. Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry in the Newfoundland Population. Obesity 2009. Apr 9.

3. Chobanian AV et al. Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Hypertension 2003. 42:1206.

4. Hulsen HT et al. Spurious systolic hypertension in young adults; prevalence of high brachial systolic blood pressure and low central pressure and its determinants. Journal of Hypertension 2006. 24(6):1027-1032.

5.Krzesinski JM and Saint-Remy A. Spurious systolic hypertension in youth: what does it really mean in clinical practice? Journal of Hypertension 2006. 24(6):999-1001.

6. Lowery L. Inconvenient Truths: Protein, Health, and Strength Sports. TMUSCLE: Feb 17, 2009.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Daisy at Dear Diaspora Riffs on "Lost" and Masculinity

John Locke’s Dad- Lost

john lockes dad The All Time Best (And Worst) TV Dads

Before the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, John Locke had some serious father issues. First, his dad abandoned him as a child. As an adult, he finally reunites with him, but instead of hugs and tears of joy, John’s dad cons John out of a kidney and then abandons his son once more. Later on, John Locke and his dad cross paths again and Locke is this time greeted with a shove out the window of an eight story building. Consequently, Locke becomes paralyzed. But hey! There’s nothing like being stuck on some mysterious island to work through all these daddy issues!

This is an excellent and interesting post of the nature of modern masculinity, a post that starts with a riff on the TV show "Lost," which I have never seen. Daisy (at Dear Diaspora) makes some good points, worthy of being shared here.

Of course, when she says "masculinity," she's talking about traditional masculinity - and I think what she would like to see more of is an evolved, mature, and compassionate masculinity.

Father-Trauma And The Gender System (Or, Traditional Masculinity Is The Problem, Not The Solution)

April 17, 2009

(Don’t worry, this post actually has nothing to do with Lost — it’s just what started the train of thought. The post will make sense even if you’ve never seen a second of the show.

Also, I have the eerie feeling that I’ve heard these ideas elsewhere, but I can’t figure out where. The closest I can find is this excellent post by Hugo about why we need a White House council on men and boys. Hmm.)

This week’s episode of Lost had absent fathers as one of its major themes. Daddy issues are a recurring concern on Lost; virtually every character has some kind of major father-related trauma. One of the main characters murdered her abusive step-dad (Kate), one watched his father murder his mother and then commit suicide when he was small child (Sawyer), one was profoundly emotionally neglected by his workaholic, alcoholic father (Jack), another was abandoned by this same man (Claire), another two were also literally abandoned by their fathers (Miles and Hurley). A whopping three characters have evil, billionaire super-manipulators who are hellbent on keeping their daughters away from the men they love as fathers (Sun, Penny and Alex). And that’s not even mentioning the fraught issues the characters have with their own kids (see Sawyer and Michael)

What I want to talk about here is the role that traditional masculinity plays in causing such problems. Conservatives often observe that fatherlessness is, arguably, epidemic at this point, and, arguably, causing countless problems. Their solution, of course, is traditional gender roles: straight marriages, with masculine, bread-winning fathers and feminine, care-taking mothers. In essence, more traditional masculinity will solve this problem — if men would only “man up,” things would be fine.

But this fairly widespread neglect and abandonment (whether emotional or physical) is a symptom of traditional masculinity, not the result of a dearth of it. There are some aspects of traditional masculinity that make for good parenting: courage, protectiveness, providing material necessities. The others, though, set men and families up for failure: being a workaholic, being unable to express emotions (like, you know, love), being violent, being a disciplinarian (and nothing else).

Father-trauma is caused by men over-performing masculinity, not under-performing it (and, of course, by the society that encourages and even demands this). No one is walking around with daddy issues because their father wasn’t macho enough.

No one spends years in therapy trying to cope with a dad who hugged her, packed her lunch, braided her hair; no one is devastated by a father who shows his emotions or tells him that he loves him. Lives are mangled by deadbeat dads, workaholics and abusers — not by stay-at-home dads. Traditional masculinity is the problem, not the solution.

Looking back at the list of daddy issues in the first paragraph — or looking around at the world* — it’s plain to see that every one of the commonly occurring kinds of father-trauma is rooted in the gender system. Physical violence as part and parcel of manhood; being a bread-winner to the total neglect of one’s relationships; the idea that fathers are not as important as mothers,** so fathers can walk away — or be pushed out.

I’m not trying to say that there aren’t some very traditionally masculine men who are good fathers, or that all fathers’ mistakes can be blamed on the gender system. I’m saying that, to the extent there is a link between masculinity and father-related problems (and I think it’s clear that there is one), it is a link caused by the hegemony of the gender system, not by folks who dissent from it. The solutions will come from extensive reworkings of masculinity, femininity, and the mechanics of the system itself, not from increased enforcement of gender norms.

* My girlfriend jokes that I’m the only person in the world without daddy issues. I wish this were much more of an exaggeration than it apparently is!

** It’s probably obvious, but: I do not think a person’s gender is relevant to her parenting ability. I’m not trying to say that fathers are critical because of their chromosomes, I’m trying to say that fathers are critical because their kids love them and need them, and that mothers are not more important by dint of their wombs. A child who’s always had two moms or two dads needs those two people; that’s totally different from the only father a kid has ever known skipping town, or being incapable of honest relationship.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Esquire - Five New Books to Make You a Better Man

Here are some books Esquire recommends to make us better men. Fiction can and does often offer us wisdom and support for living a better life. I haven't read any of these books, so you're on your own.

I have read novels by Chuck Palahniuk (think Fight Club) and love his books.

Five New Books to Make You a Better Man

These aren't just the best examples of fiction for you to read this summer. They're the words that will help you get by.

By Benjamin Alsup

shelf of books

Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D

Everybody says men don't read novels anymore. I tell them that's why so many men are asses. Good novels don't just describe the lives of men; they make arguments about the kind of men we ought to be. They inspire improvement. Would anyone still subject themselves to the embarrassments of fly-fishing if it weren't for Hemingway? Read enough Steinbeck before a certain age and you're unlikely to vote Republican. I've seen functionally illiterate undergrads read themselves right out of college. (Parents: Keep the kids far away from anything by Wendell Berry. Or worse — William Burroughs.)

The same still holds true today. Read Ron Carlson's latest, The Signal (Viking, $24), and you'll be convinced that the answer to your worries resides in the woods, in getting back to the basics: cooking over a fire, sleeping under stars, working with your hands. It's a sweet, tidy little book about a broken rancher. And yet it won't just help you pass the time; it will help you out. These three will help you out even more.

Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow, $27)

The chief pleasure of Leonard is that the line between the good life — money, women, drink, food —and the bad life — prison, poverty, pain — is so clearly and sharply drawn. As in Out of Sight, the hero here is Jack Foley, who has no equal when it comes to robbing banks. He walks in and asks the teller politely for cash. That's it. His success (127 banks and counting) stands as a testament to the simple power of a guy who knows how to smile and remembers his p's and q's.

Nothing in Road Dogs is going to make you reexamine your existential underpinnings. Leonard's more interested in sprucing up your conduct. And like all good advice, his book ultimately tells us what we already know: The world may be a cosmic joke, but that doesn't mean it's without meaningful pleasures. A good hot shower, a new white T-shirt, a rib-eye steak, a fifth of Jack Daniels — these are things for which one should be profoundly grateful. And if this seems too easy, just remember that "thinking too much can fuck you up."

How to Sell, by Clancy Martin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24)

In some ways, the first novel from Martin is standard coming-of-age fare. Bobby Clark moves to Fort Worth, Texas, to join the retail jewelry racket. He meets a girl. He loses a girl. He makes some money. He loses some money. But where Martin's novel departs is that once Bobby's learned how to sell, there's not much else worth learning. Martin is less interested in telling us who we ought to be than he is in showing us who we've become: men (and women) ruled by wealth and the desire for wealth, sex and the desire for sex, drugs and the desire for more drugs. This is "Morning in America" as apocalyptic hangover.

It's a lean and mean book, perfect for those who distrust all this recent talk about change. The kind of novel — cool and dark — that goes with you to the beach and then keeps you thinking at night. Plus it offers a handy litmus test: If its characters seem familiar, you ought to be afraid. Better still, you might consider a move to the country.

Waveland, by Frederick Barthelme (Doubleday, $25)

Vaughn Williams will be familiar to fans of aging-white-guy ennui. His marriage has gone bust. His career isn't what he thought it would be, and his parents have recently died. He takes up with a woman who may have shot her husband. The two move in with his ex-wife. But these plot points aren't played for drama. Rather they are presented as sad inevitabilities. Like hurricanes. Vaughn responds to events around him the way many of us do — by thinking lots and doing little. Then something interesting happens: The old guy changes. He does the kind of simple things that we ought to do and too often do not. He stops searching for new tragedies on the Internet. He sells the big house in town. He becomes, just as old Leonard would have us be, a "sampler of ordinary pleasures."

The pleasures of reading Barthelme are small. They come at the sentence level, but they are sublime. There are no grand gestures here. No profundity of insight or heroic speeches. It's too late for these things. In Waveland, things are broken nearly beyond repair. And yet the operative word here is nearly. Amid the rubble, Barthelme seems to argue, we might still find a separate peace from the terrors of the wider world. We might carve out our own thin slice of sanity. We might turn our cruel selves kinder. We might be mostly lousy, but we can improve.

Plus One Book for Your Son

Read Chuck Palahniuk's new book, Pygmy (Doubleday, $25), and you'll learn to despise the hypocrisy of born-again Christians. Already got that covered? Okay, instead give Pygmy to your kid. He'll think you're rad. Palahniuk's perfect for the little one because he delivers the surface kicks of Burroughs without the danger of any actual subversion. Your boy may get a bad haircut. He probably won't start in on the smack.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shadow Work - Hijacked by a Part

I wrote this poem last night as a way to sort out something that came up for me. The circumstances aren't important, but the response in me caught me off guard.

behind the words
I heard my father's voice,
so unexpected,
felt myself 6 years old
and quivering

some feelings persist,
buried in the dust of memory
but still potent,
able to rattle bones
and wring the heart

I watched it happen,
helpless now as then,
watched myself crumble
inwardly, silent, unable
to unclench my jaw
In parts work (or subpersonalities, if you prefer), this is what is known as being hijacked by a part. It gets triggered and, much like an autonomous complex in Jungian psychology, takes over the system.

This can only happen if the part in question has been exiled from consciousness, or relegated to the shadow. So it waits there, quietly, unconscious most of the time, until a trigger comes up that is associated with its original causation.

Parts get exiled when we are young as a result of trauma, anxiety, fear, or any other feeling that makes the "executive control function" feel that the emotion is too much for consciousness. Over time, similar feelings get added to the exiled part, making it more or less a distinct personality, but a young one, and one with lots of emotional baggage.

So, years later, if these parts are never dealt with, they can pop up when a similar trigger is present. That's what happened to me last night - an expected trigger sent me back to being six years old and feeling ineffectual.

In all the work I've done over the years, apparently I haven't dealt with the ways my father dismissed me and made me feel worthless. For me, like many men, my masculinity is at least in part connected to my sense of agency in the world - my ability to feel self-directed and effectual, the drive to be whole.

So now I know he's there (the hard way). My next step is to get to know him, dialogue with him, find out who that child is and what he needs, and how to help him release his burden. The more compassion, curiosity, courage, and creativity I can bring to the exploration, the easier the process will be.

BUT, and this is a big BUT, any time there is an exiled part, there are "managers" whose job it is to keep the part exiled. I can't just go in and work with the exile directly. I must deal with the managers who would rather not let that part into the light of day. From their perspective, it was a HUGE failure that the part got out last night, and they are likely to clamp down that much harder to prevent its escape again. So there must be negotiation with these managers (and this is something a lot of therapists don't understand in their "inner child" work with clients) before the exile can be approached.

My work is cut out for me.