Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free!

Cozy has made it to 14 months. I was a little nervous about the 13 month spread because of the Stevie Wonder thing. (“Thirteen month old baby, broke the looking glass…”) So we’re at a year and two months and still no clear gendered behavior. I’m going to knock on wood before she walks in here with a picture of Barbie that she has uploaded on my smartphone. She is still just a person. Hooray!

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It’s funny how we think about gender in terms of opposites; that there are opposite sexes. A local rock club posted a noticed that “Opposite genders” were not allowed in their bathrooms. (The note came down after some trans-sensitive folks had a word with the owner.) Genders have no opposite and men and women have more in common than we acknowledge. It’s not like boys walk on their feet and girls walk on their hands. This is not Dr. Seus-land.

But the gender binary is a powerful idea. We do construct the idea of gender in this culture, at this time, in terms of opposites (although less so than previous generations). Men are active and strong while women are passive and weak. Men are stoic and women are emotional. Men are earners and women are spenders, and on and on. Of course there are a zillion examples of how this is not true and the core of the liberal feminist agenda is that women can do anything men can do, including fight wars. (Radical feminists have a different take on that, as discussed in the post on Second Wave.) But patriarchy establishes that men assert the desired quality and then the opposite is relegated to the feminine. Men are brave heroes and women are crazy bitches.

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One of the characteristics of this gender dichotomy is the idea of autonomy. Men are supposed to be free to come and go. High plains drifter. Papa was a rolling stone. The world is there for men to explore, block by block, continent by continent. Chart your own course, dude. Make your own dreams, homeboy. Hit the road, Jack Kerouac. In contrast females have a thick rule book to play by and are not supposed to be autonomous. They are supposed to be dependent little princesses, sitting around in their parents’ castle, singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” In my mom’s generation, women typically said yes to the first man that proposed to them because it was the only way to get out of the parents’ house. This was long before Sex and the City.

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Of course, any single mom now would laugh at this simple dichotomy but there are still vestiges of it around. When I was in college, there were plenty of women who would joke that their major was “pre-wed,” and they were in college to get their “Mrs. Degree.” There’s a Bible college south of Portland where the female students are still fond of saying, “Ring by spring or your money back.” For those women I would  require a viewing Mona Lisa Smile, the 2003 Julia Roberts movie. If your life is dedicated to finding a husband to take care of you, you are in for a sad awakening at around age 29.

I want Cozy to be autonomous. I want her to roam free and drive her own car, not sit in the passenger seat (or the backseat with the other guy’s wife). She roams the house and has only fallen down the stairs once. (Please don’t tell anybody.) Of course, as a parent I keep a close eye on her, but if she wants to play with her blocks or look at books, she can. We are trying to instill a sense of her own independence while keeping her safe from falling down a well. (Little girls falling down wells was a big fad in the late 1980s.)

Baby’s are generally the opposite of autonomous. If she’s headed for the street, I’m going to pick her up. If she’s munching on spilled coffee grounds, I’m washing her mouth out. If she’s trying to turn on the TV and it’s not Sesame Street time, I’m going to shut it off. And I am always taking something out of her hands. Sorry, kid, grown ups are in charge. But at the same time, she has to discover her own freedom. She can be a rolling stone as long as the door to the basement is closed.

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Andrea and I went to go see Madonna’s big Rebel Heart concert last week. At 57, she is a great example of what a woman can do when left to her own devices (and a dumptruck full of Botox). Madonna couldn’t have happened in the 1950s. She needed the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s saying that a material girl has the right to her own life and dreams, so go for it. Be like Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, not Roberta. Or be like Roberta in the end of that movie. But get an education so you don’t have to keep all your belongings in a Port Authority locker in a bus station. (OK, there’s been way too much Madonna in this house since the concert.)

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Parenting is such a balancing act. The challenge of raising an independent child who doesn’t get mowed down by a drunk driver at a parade. It seems like our society is always trying to strike a balance between our freedom and our safety. On top of that, I don’t want Cozy to think she is some princess who’s singular dream is the arrival of Mr. Right to think for her once she leaves the nest. It’s nice to see the rejection of the princess thing by so many parents and girls. We don’t live in fucking medieval Europe. Unless she’s the mother of dragons, we are looking forward, babe. A rolling stone with roots, that’s what we want, not Repunzel. Besides, Cozy has already decided she is going to be a soccer star or a contractor. She can hire Prince Charming to manage her payroll.

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Molesting Children on Instagram

October 16, 2015

Do you ever think the the world would be a better place if a whole category of people would just die? No, I’m not talking about Trump supporters. They can be helped. I think I’m pretty good at understanding why people do the horrible things they do. Many people view school shooters, serial killers, Nazis and the Koch Brothers as just plain “evil,” but I look for the complex series of sociological, psychological, and biological variables to understand how they got to the point to make those choices.

Andrea was bopping around Instagram the other night. I was telling her about some crazy Japanese anime I’ve been writing about in my new book. Suddenly, she threw her phone down on the bed and clutched her chest. I figured she saw some bizarre Japanese drawings, maybe of women and eels. Nope. It was child porn. Real child porn.

Her eyes filled with tears and she handed me the phone. It was a profile called Cumfun and the first picture was a blindfolded girl, about 8 or 9, being forced to perform oral sex on an adult male. I didn’t look at any of the rest of it, but out of the corner of my wincing eye I could see that all the pictures were of children in sexual situations. He claimed to have a Snapchat account as well, which probably means he was the one doing the abusing.

I wanted to puke for so many reasons. As a parent of a girl, this is not just an abstract social problem. But also that this vileness could exist on America’s favorite photo sharing site. This is the site that banned #Goddess and pictures of women breastfeeding. Of course, plenty of porn slips on to Instagram. I discovered this last summer when I hash-tagged a picture from #Cancun. I don’t know what hashtags Cumfun used and I don’t want to know.

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We were in a state of shock after seeing what could never be unseen. As soon as we got our bearings, I immediately called the 24-hour hotline for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-THE-LOST/1-800-843-5678) and reported the site. I had to thank them for the important work they do which suddenly had become very real. By the next morning Cumfun’s profile was gone. I was ready to call a friend at the FBI if it wasn’t.

So there are two issues here I am confronting.

The first is the lack of oversight on an app that I love and spend way too much time on (@blazakr). Cumfun had a lot of photos posted so I have to imagine that he (maybe she) had been on Instagram for at least a few weeks. How could this happen? Instagram clamps down on breastfeeding pictures but it’s oblivious to videos and pictures children being raped on its platform? And we just stumbled onto one. How many more profiles like this are on Instagram?

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The second issue is the sickening reminder that child pornography is even more of a pervasive problem now thanks to electronic media. These are somebody’s children. Children who will grow up with all the psychic scars connected to child sexual abuse. I can suggest some important research on serial killers and show you that it often turns out very badly. Typically those children grow up to perpetuate their victimization on their own children. So, yeah, sometimes I hate the world.

On one hand, the social scientist in me wants to understand the causes of pedophilia. There is some pretty fascinating research that has found, among other things, that MRI scans of pedophile brains reveal less white matter than normal brains. White matter helps to pass nerve messages through the brain. Interesting, right? Yeah, no.

The other (more emotional) hand says who cares about white matter. I have a child that some monster may want to molest at some point. Just cut his head off now, white matter and all. I have plenty to worry about as a parent; Cozy getting splinters or becoming overly dependent on Elmo for her emotional needs. I don’t want to have to think about some dude with a “psychiatric disorder” kidnapping my daughter, filming her rape and sharing those images with other “sick” people. Good lord. Seriously?

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But the reality is we have to prepare her for this darkness in the world. We have to let her know that there are people that will hurt her very badly just because they can. They might be strangers or they might be someone she already knows (which is actually more likely). We have to teach her to trust her gut and protect her body. We have to teach her to scream and fight and go for the eyes. And we can’t wait until she’s headed off to college. More like kindergarden. It is soul crushing to even think about.

I want Cozy to know the world is a beautiful place, filled with joy and excitement. I want her to take risks, reaping the rewards of a chance taken and learning from her failures. But she needs to know there is a dark force out there that will crush her for sport. There may be a scientific explanation for what they do (and therefore a real cure), but for the moment, I would be happy if they just died. I’m a compassionate person, but I also hope that “Cumfun” is headed to prison where he will be low pedo on the inmate totem pole. I don’t really care about what is wrong with his brain. I care about those kids in his Instagram profile.

What I can do right now is to encourage everyone who reads this to pressure Instagram into being more vigilant about allowing people to use Instagram for their exploitation of our children. And for Goddess sake, if you see something, please report it right away.

What should I do if I see images that sexually exploit children (ex: pornography) on Instagram?

Maybe you should sit down to pee.

October 6, 2015

I’m learning that internet trolls hate all things feminine or gay (shocker, I know). In the wake of recent blog posts on Donald Trump, fraternities, and last week’s Roseburg shooting, commenters have called me a “pussy” and a “fag” and have accused me of wearing panties and (my favorite new putdown) sitting down to pee.

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This is nothing new. If you think about how boys bully other boys, it’s typically some attempt to feminize them. They’ll accuse them of being gay or, worse, being a female, or even worse, being a vagina! I know this first hand because when I was a teenager my name was transformed from “Blazak” to “Gayzak.” I remember one bully named Ted who stopped me on my way home and announced, “Gayzak, you’re a pussy.” Being a little too quick, I responded, “Well, I guess you are what you eat, dick.” Ted then punched me in the face, not for being homophobic but for meeting his feminization with a better one. (I’ve mentioned this story before in a blogpost about vaginas but I should point out that at our 20 year high school reunion, a few days after 9/11, a very emotional Ted apologized. It meant more than he knew.)

Now I regularly get called “Ballsack” by “clever” trolls who are stuck in the fourth grade and can’t mount an actual critique of my positions. But it all fits into the larger paradigm that’s behind the toxic masculinity that drives schoolyard bullies and school shooters and I would guess explains a lot of what drives America’s favorite bully, Donald Trump. It was clearly a factor in Roseburg. The shooter was mad at the world because he was a still a virgin. If you are a 26-year-old virgin, you probably shouldn’t be angry at anybody but yourself. This theme parallels last year’s mass shooting in Isla Vista, California (six killed, fourteen injured). Don’t die like a boy, go out “like a man.”

The root behind all of this is the devaluation of the feminine, the hallmark of all patriarchal societies. Females are less than fully human. While this predates the demotion of Eve from the Mother of Humanity to the Original Sinner (that BITCH!) by ancient Hebrew priests, it is not universal. Despite the mythology of the essential nature of male dominance, not all cultures are patriarchal and cultures get less patriarchal the farther you go back in time. Cavemen did not rule cavewomen. Hunting and gathering societies were mostly gathering and evidence relays that men and women shared in both tasks.

There is a lot to be said about patriarchy but here are two quick ways that men can keep power over the women who gave them life.

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1. Create a god in your image. For most of our human history, men and women have bowed down to goddesses, the source of life. But early nomadic tribes and their warrior gods invaded goddess cultures, like Crete and Anatolia. Over thousands of years, goddesses were replaced with gods and then just one male God. And as Mary Daly said in 1973’s Beyond God the Father, “If God is man, then man is God.”

I’m going to write more about this important point later, just know if you worship a god who has a penis instead of a vagina, you are part of patriarchy. Also, is your god circumcised and if so, who did it and where is God’s foreskin now? (Sorry, I wonder about these things.)

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2. Devalue all things associated with females, whether it’s ovaries or reproductive rights. Women are “girls” and men who you want to rank over are “ladies.” If a guy is being a pain, call him a little bitch (or the weirdly homoerotic “my bitch”) and accuse him of being on the rag. Call him anything to do with feminine anatomy; fallopian face, labial loser and the ever useful “pussy.” (The hatred of vaginas by these guys really makes you wonder.)

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There is a right-winger who posts a lot of crap on my Facebook page. This is a guy who thinks Russian dictator Vladmir Putin is a bad ass and Syrian mass murderer Bashar Al-Assad is a hero. When I called him out on his sexist language he posted an image of a woman in t-shirt that said, “Obama is a pussy.” My response was, “You must really hate pussy.” He seemed confused.

This is the weird conflicted psyche of the misogynist. In devaluing the feminine you end up looking kinda, well, gay. You think women and “pussies” suck. So what DO you like? Men and cocks? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Holla!) I’m quite fond of the vagina and find it infinitely fascinating, so if you call me a pussy, I will take it as a great compliment. And when I think of the awesome gay people I know and what they have to go through because of asshole bigots, well, I couldn’t think of a better thing to be called. When I hear, “That’s so gay,” I translate into “Fabulous!!”

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But of course, that’s not what the He-Man Woman Haters mean. If you Google “Obama is a pussy,” you also find plenty of images of Obama as a female. That’s the put-down. Female, like your mother/wife/daughter, is the worst thing you can be. Patriarchy makes these boys and men so sexually confused, no wonder so many of them are deathly afraid of cunnilingus. According to the male God bibles, that’s nothing but a dirty devil hole. “She was bleeding from her whatever!”

One more story. Before my neighborhood got the shit gentrified out of it, there was a brothel on my block. A pimp named Freddie hung out there and the license plate on his Caddy just read “TNB.” One day I asked, “Hey Freddie, what does TNB stand for.” He answered, “That’s my street name, Trust No Bitch.” Without thinking of the time Ted punched me in the face, I replied, “Oh, does that include your mother?” That was the day I learned you don’t talk feminism with a pimp.

How anyone with a daughter can hate the feminine so much is beyond me. You have to feel sorry for any woman who is married to a guy who hates pussy and tells other men they are going to be his bitch. Don’t these men know they came into the world through a vagina? (Shout out to my C-Section peeps!) What happened to them that they loathe females so much? Oh, that’s right, they grew up in a patriarchal culture. Eve, that nasty-ass skank biotch.

I have a baby daughter. Besides the fact that keeping her vagina healthy is an important agenda item, I’ve also learned to not wake her when she is blissfully sleeping. Since the bathroom is next to the nursery, one way to achieve this is to pee sitting down. (Trust me on this one.) When you pee sitting down, you can check your email or read a few paragraphs in the latest issue of Men’s Health. It’s kind of a cool thing. (Sitting down is also handy if you are drunk, hungover, really tired, or drunk.) But I also eat quiche, watch Ellen Degeneres, sometimes I wear pink and always call myself a feminist. When I was a boy, I might have been afraid of some of that. (I think a lot of “disco sucks” crap I was into as a teenager was driven by fear of the feminine.) Fortunately, I grew up.

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The point of all this is that if boys and men started listening to women instead of hating them or only viewing them as sexual objects to be cum upon, they might learn some important lessons about how to live. All week I’ve been asking people to ask why boys and men go on these shooting sprees. Perhaps the better question would be to ask why girls and women don’t go on shooting sprees. Stop calling people pussies and start really hearing what people with pussies have to offer.

I don’t have all the answers, just this thought. Maybe men should just sit down and shut up and have a nice pee.

Note: Plenty of liberal guys engage in “bro talk.” You don’t have to be a right-winger to fear the power of pussy.

The following book was mentioned in this post and is available at Powell’s Books by clicking on the cover below.

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America

October 2, 2015

I’ve been writing about boys and guns for a long time now. I was writing about it before Columbine. I’m writing about it today and I imagine I will be writing about it 20 years from now. Boys (and men) love guns and shooting them. Some shoot targets and tin cans and some shoot people. A lot of people.

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I’ve been doing a lot of talking about boys and guns for the last 24-hours after a young man in my state decided to go on a shooting spree at Umpqua Community College, killing nine people. That was the 294th mass shooting this year with a body count of 380 people killed, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker. When it’s close to home, like yesterday’s shooting in Roseburg, it hurts, but if it’s not, it can be just background noise of life in America. As President Obama put it so powerfully yesterday, we have become numb. Comfortably numb.

It’s about gender first

If all these shootings had been committed by girls and women, you better believe we would be talking about gender. We are so used to boys shooting that we don’t even see it. I was a boy and I was taught to love guns. I had plastic six-shooters and then graduated to a plastic tommy gun that shot sparks out of the barrel. The movies and TV shows I loved had gun violence and so did the video games. But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

I learned that violence was a part of my maleness. If I was having a beef with another boy in school, he’d ultimately say, “Let’s go outside and solve this like men.” That didn’t mean we were going to have a discussion about our feelings. I didn’t fight much, but I did obsess over comic books where my heroes did a lot of fighting. And I did play high school football for a while because the most violent sports were the easiest way to confirm my teenage masculinity. During practice I would bang my helmet on the bleachers to make it look I got in some “good hits.” But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

So much of the way think of “manning up” is wrapped up in violence and the best way to attack a boy or man is to attack his masculinity. But, unfortunately, the quickest way to push back against that is with violence, especially gun violence and go out like a man. When we look at the boys and men who commit these mass shootings, they usually have been emasculated in some way. They have been bullied, or had a wife leave them, or lost a job. I’ve had all the above and thoughts of retributive violence certainly crossed my mind, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

These shooters are almost always suicidal. The ones that aren’t killed by police or their own bullet, like the Charleston church shooter, just chicken out at the last minute. When right-wingers call for putting more guns in schools, movie theaters, and churches, it sounds wonderfully John Wayne, but would have zero deterrent effect. These boys and men want to die. They just want to take as many people with them as they go out the door. They suffer from acute depression, something I have known in my own life, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

The sociopathic boy

So we know that these shooters are males (usually white, but not always), fixated on guns and violence, who have been emasculated in some way and suffer from depression. Well, that describes probably the majority of males in this culture at some point, including myself. Gender is the funnel that moves boys and men closer to this act but there has to be something more than that.

As I wrote in my 2000 book with Wayne Wooden, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws, there is a psychological thread that connected the wave of school shooters leading up to Columbine. They tended to have evidence of sociopathic personalities. Someone with Anti-Social Personality Disorder displays the classic psychopathic attributes. They are cruel and manipulative. They are driven by impulse and act without the guilt mechanism that stops the rest of us from doing bad things. They have a big devil on one shoulder but no angel on the other to balance out those dark thoughts and impulses. If it feels good, do it.

Sociopathy in boys starts early. We get the big three red flags; bedwetting, animal cruelty, and fire starting. If you have a boy who has an issue with two of those, you are probably OK. But if they’ve regularly expressed all three there is a chance you could end up like Kip Kinkel’s parents. As we learn more about the Roseburg shooter, I expect we will find a clear case of sociopathic behavior. Some of his social media postings point in that direction.

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Sociopaths are angry at the world for not giving them what they think they are entitled to. They want others to suffer the way they do and are willing to go out in an orgy of violence so the world will remember their name. And absolutely nothing can stop them (unless they can’t get their hands on their weapon of choice).

The problem with sociopathy is that we barely understand it. Some evidence points to early childhood sexual trauma. Some newer research connects it to chromosomal damage and brain dysfunction. If we don’t understand its cause, we can’t take that psychopathic kid and treat him or her (sometimes it is a female) before something big happens. So here’s our call for more mental health interventions for young people, but the reality is that sociopaths walk among us and we really have no defense against them.

Of course guns are a factor

Let’s make this simple and complete the equation. The profile of a mass shooter = Violence obsessed male + sociopathic personality + access to guns. I suppose these potential mass murderers could blow up schools, like Christian Slater did in the 1989 film Heathers, but that requires a lot of work. Guns are easy. More than a third of all American households have a gun. That’s a decrease from the 1970s, but it’s still plenty of readily available armaments.

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There is some important information for you 2nd Amendment advocates I’d like to share. All our constitutional freedoms are negotiated. You have freedom of speech but you do not have the freedom to slander or shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. On your next air flight, tell the attendant that you have a bomb and then try to hide behind the 1st Amendment. The same thing with the right to keep and bear arms.

The 2nd Amendment, authored in 1789, does not give you the right to keep and bear nuclear arms. It also does not give children, inmates, convicted felons the right to own handguns. The courts constantly negotiate and update our constitutional freedoms. You do not have the right to own a TEC-DC9 assault weapon unless the Supreme Court says you do. And if you don’t believe that, you don’t understand how America works.

So there is a way to have sensible gun laws that limit the access of certain kinds of people to certain kinds of (high power) weapons. The rest of the world can do it, why can’t we? I share in the president’s frustration over how hard it is to get over this hump. I thought after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012 we had finally had enough. But, apparently, we haven’t.

Get ready for more carnage

The good news is the gun violence, in general, has been on the decline in America since 1993. Things are getting better and most of can sleep at night knowing our family is not going to be mowed down by a crazed gunman. But the model of mass shooting as a glorious suicide is now part of our culture and we can chose to accept that. (The “Columbine Effect“)

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There is going to be more bloodshed and body counts. Students are going to continue to die as well as people in churches and in movie theaters and in work places. We will call for prayers and hold vigils and then forget about it until it happens again, probably tomorrow. Boys love their guns and if a few of them are sociopathic and shoot somebody else’s boys, or girls, or mommies, or dads, that’s the price we pay for “freedom.” It’s the American bloodsport that we’ve become accustomed to.

This is a complex issue that no simple solution is going to fix. But if we look at the issue of violence and masculinity, sociopathy, and gun access together, we might have a few less days like yesterday.

Note: As feminists have acknowledged, there are some very positive aspects of masculinity, like care for the family. Those are the boys we want to raise and you don’t need guns to do it.