Why we can’t have nice things: MEN and rape culture

June 1, 2016

When all the hullabaloo about banning transgender people from bathrooms in North Carolina hit the front page, my brilliant wife said something profound (as she is wont to do). She said, “As the mother of a daughter, I only have two things to worry about, BOYS and MEN.” There are no cases of transgender people attacking children in restrooms. There are endless cases of BOYS and MEN attacking girls and women in every conceivable location, including on a subway during morning rush hour in the nation’s capital. How we raise our BOYS has a lot to do with the hell that girls and women face on a daily basis.

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The reason people are opposed to transgender people using their restrooms is partially a product of transphobia but it’s also due to the fear that MEN, costumed in drag, will somehow abuse the bathroom right and assault girls and women. So trans people are punished for what MEN do. Frankly, I think much homophobia, in general, is rooted in this threat by MEN. Homophobic MEN are afraid gay men will treat straight MEN the same way straight MEN treat women; by sexualizing them, objectifying them, hitting on them, and raping them. I try to tell MEN that if a gay guy is looking at your ass, you’re safe. Just take it as a compliment. Those guys have high standards!

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Even before Cozy was born, MEN started telling me that I needed to get a baseball bat (or a gun) and be ready to beat down any BOY or MAN who harms my daughter. “If somebody lays an unwanted hand on my girl, I’ll kill him!” I’ve never heard a single father of a BOY say, “If my son lays an unwanted hand on a girl, I’ll kill him!” It’s up to the girls to not get raped. We train them for defense at an early age. When will we train BOYS not to do the raping and the assaulting and the harassing and the objectifying?

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There’s plenty of work being done to teach girls and women how not to become rape victims. Maybe she can take a class and learn a few good self-defense moves (“Go for his eyes!”) and her potential rapist will just go rape somebody else who didn’t take the class. There’s not much training of how BOYS and MEN can fight rape. But there’s plenty of training that helps BOYS and MEN to at least think about raping. It’s called our culture.

When I was a senior in high school I got called into the office. I routinely wore shorts to school to defy the unwritten dress code. One day the intercom in my Folk Guitar class squawked, “Will you send Mr. Blazak to the vice principal’s office?” When I asked why wearing shorts was forbidden, the very southern VP said, “Because legs are distracting.” I had to laugh at the thought of my sixteen-year-old BOY legs distracting anybody. But I asked, “What about the cheerleaders in their short skirts on Fridays? That’s not distracting?” The VP gave a chuckle and lowered his voice to say, “Okay, MAN to MAN, are you saying you don’t want to see their legs?”

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Right there is the mixed messages we give to girls. On one side, they have a narrow scope of expression or they risk slut-shaming (“Not wearing a bra? You’re suspended!) or being told they are asking to be raped. On the other side, they need to put as much energy into attracting MALES as possible and if their grades suffer, that’s just too bad. (“BOYS don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”) No wonder teenage girls get all emo. You have to look good to BOYS but not so good you “get yourself” raped.

Feminists are all too familiar with the concept of “rape culture.” It’s the normalization of rape in our society. The data is clear, nearly a quarter of all American women will become victims of rape. That’s a quarter of our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, co-workers, and students. If I’ve got a hundred students in my class and half are female, at least a dozen are or will become rape victims. If you reading this and you’re female that’s not news to you. If you’re MALE, you might have done the raping or want to. Or just maybe you want to stop your fellow BOYS and MEN from raping. What BOYS and MEN fear the most about going to prison is what girls and women fear every day.

If you don’t believe rape is normalized, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones, a series that must be written by teenage rapist wannabes. “Rape as entertainment” is justified on that show because some of those rapists get their heads hacked off. Yeah! A survey last year found that 1 in 3 college MALES would rape women if they could get a way with it. Think about that. That’s rape culture. I’d like to give that survey to the MALES who watch Game of Thrones. I bet it’s a lot more than 1 in 3.

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A few years ago, I went the big Bi-Mart Country Fest in a giant field near Corvallis, Oregon. (Hey, I’m from Georgia and a good country song about beer can take ahold of my soul.) There was a young MAN in the crowd that had a T-shirt that read, “Let’s play a game. Let’s see how many drinks it takes before you fuck me.” I swear to God. This was a big GUY but I said, “Nice rapist shirt, dude.” He puffed up and said, “I’m not a rapist. I have a girlfriend!” His date looked like a scared rabbit.

You add the sexual violence that BOYS and MEN wage against girls and women to all the crime BOYS and MEN commit (Another school shooting yesterday?) and you wonder why presidential candidates aren’t spending more time talking about the threat by BOYS and MEN in this country and less about (the BOYS and MEN in) ISIS. I used to assign a book in my Criminology class called Men Are Not Cost Effective. Author June Stephenson makes the case that the bad behavior by MALES is so costly to our society (police, prisons, storage space for rape kits, etc.) that MEN should be taxed to help pay for their shit. Why should females pay taxes that go to arrest, prosecute, and lock up the BOYS and MEN who rape them? Maybe the MEN who didn’t stop them should pay. And just think what we could do with the trillions of dollars we have to spend dealing with the mayhem of BOYS and MEN? (Google “Iraq War”)

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I’m going to raise my daughter to be strong and understand the real threats of living in a patriarchal society. But I’m begging you to raise your sons to not rape her. It seems like a simple request.

Note: June 7. I want to dedicated this to Brock Turner’s father, the worst father in America and a representative of everything that is wrong with affluent maleness.

We need a Rosa Parks of genitals: North Carolina and the need to pee

April 21, 2016

I used to love North Carolina, the beauty of the artist nook in Asheville, the cool cranny of a rock scene in Chapel Hill. I’ve spent a lot of time crossing the state and enjoying its wonderful nooks and crannies. That was until North Carolina became the new Mississippi, the bastion of backwards bigotry. Ever  since its governor, Pat McCrory, signed HB 2 this month, the rest of the world (including Bruce Springsteen!) now knows the truth about the Tar Heel state. And the truth is North Carolinians are convinced that in those nook and crannies are hiding… transexuals. Transsexuals who want to attack them in restrooms!

Even bonafide bigot Donald Trump thinks the new law goes too far. He is a businessman after all (and wouldn’t want to alienate Caitlyn Jenner). The ongoing boycott and recent appeals court decisions will doom the law before Ted Cruz and “Christian” hate-mongers will be able to claim it as a victory for “religious freedom,” or “decency” or “safety.” After all, if kids are going to be molested in bathrooms, it should be by someone with the same genitals. Gawd!

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The right needs to manufacture a continuing parade of bogeymen to project their fears on. Trump’s “rapist Mexicans” sort of backfired when Republicans realized Latinos were lining up in record numbers to vote against the entire GOP slate. “Who haven’t we kicked around yet? Transexuals! After all, you are your genitals!”

We are ignorant of so many things. It’s understandable that so many people don’t understand the challenge and reality of being a transexual person. The DSM-V has moved from the term “gender disorder,” to “gender dysphoria,” but there is still a stigma of “sickness” among many who are in the dark about the population. Fortunately, I have friends who are transitioning or have transitioned from both male to female and female to male identities and I can say they are probably the most “not mentally ill” people I know. (Some of my Republican friends, though…)

I don’t have it in me to do another lecture on the innate difference between biological sex, gender performance, and sexual orientation. Maybe later. Let me just invite the good-hearted people of North Carolina and other shit-holes of bigotry (which might be in your own home) to talk to a human being who is transsexual and ask them about the basic right of using the bathroom that conforms to your gender.

The right like to pretend that this is about “safety.” As if they care. Women are raped outside of bathrooms everyday. It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for them (unless it’s done by an “illegal alien”). Every day seven kids are killed by guns. They could care less about that. But the weird scenario where a perverted man dresses as a woman solely so he can assault a woman or a girl in a public restroom is sufficient reason to change the law and screw over an already marginalized part of our American family. How Christ-like. Maybe a law that keeps ministers away from children, I mean, if you want to base legislation on actual documented sexual assaults.

Let’s be clear. There is no documented cases of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom. There are, however, multitudes of reports of transgender people being assaulted in restrooms. And violence against the transgender people is on the increase. The legacy of the ignorance coming out of North Carolina.

So let’s break this stupid law down. The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act says people have to use the public restroom or changing room that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

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First, how the hell is this enforced? Will the state fund an army of crotch monitors to check the junk of anybody using the restroom. “Excuse me Miss, I need to verify that you have a vagina.” And will this enforcement be administered fairly? I know some pretty butch ladies and some femme boys that may be asked to drop trou more often than Biff and Tiffany. And how will I know that the genital monitor in the men’s room who is verifying the presence of my penis does not have some alternative motive? And what about folks who have had gender reassignment surgery? Are we going to have to carry our birth certificates with us into the john? I know you really need to go, but can you prove RIGHT NOW what YOUR sex at birth was? (And can someone please tell me where intersex people in North Carolina are supposed to take a leak?)

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Secondly, despite the drag queen stereotype of Flip Wilson dressed as Geraldine (a reference for us old timers), it’s not exactly easy to identify a transperson. So what this law does is forces a lot of guys (who have vaginas) into the ladies’ room and gals (who have penises) into the mens’ room. I’m not sure that’s going to make the transphobic folks of North Carolina feel more “safe” while they pop a squat.

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I secretly think that there might be a hidden agenda here. I know plenty of people in the trans community and those are some good looking folks. Often the transmen (born female) are very masculine and transwomen (born male) are very feminine. What North Carolina lady wouldn’t want a hunky macho guy? Who wouldn’t beat her! And what curious NC boy wouldn’t want a glamour girl? Who knows what a man really wants! Maybe this is the Tar Heal state’s “tearoom trade,” and there is a secret desire to queer “chance meetings” in the toilet. Hey, a cis-boy can dream. (But it would be helpful to know how many people from NC cruise trans-porn websites.)

And third, this law obviously exposes transpeople to even more violence. Imagine a high school girl who was born male being forced to use the restroom with teenage boys who already use words like “fag,” and “pussy” as a put down. And how are women in the locker room at the gym going to react when dude comes in (who happens to have a vagina) to change clothes? The result will be to push people away from the gender expression that they feel most comfortable in. Just like the bigots who want gay and lesbians to just “act straight,” this is another dictatorship of the majority designed to force people to act in a way that doesn’t make the bigot feel uncomfortable. What ever happened to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? But instead we are likely to see more suicides because of North Carolina’s move backwards.

But I like to look for the light. Look how far we’ve come in a short time on the issue of gay marriage. Public attitudes have flipped. Well-meaning people realized that gay folks just want to have the same right to enter into disastrous (and occasionally successful) marriages as they do. They didn’t want to get married so they could molest children in churches and rose gardens. At some point even the backwards people of North Carolina will realize that when it comes to really having to pee, we are all the same.

But in the mean time, I would encourage a little civil disobedience by my friends in North Carolina. If you identify as female (whether you are transgender or cisgender), every time you enter a public restroom or changing room, announce, “I do not have a vagina!” And if you are a male entering the men’s room, exclaim, “I do not have a penis!” Then wait for a law enforcement officer to verify your crotch situation. You could be the Rosa Parks of genitals.

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The Feminine Mystique: Stay-at-Home Dad Edition

April 14, 2016

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When Norton Books published Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 it opened the door for the great “second wave” of feminism. Friedan, who had been a labor reporter, had a revelation after a college reunion with her classmates at Smith College in 1957. After surveying the women about their lives in 1950s domestic tranquility she found that they were far from happy. A life of staying home and taking care of your husband and children as “Mrs. Joe Blow” was not exactly satisfying to a human being who was taught to follow her own path in life. Friedan labeled this the “problem with no name” as women suffered at the hands of what was supposed to make them blissfully happy, a prison with a picket fence.

She named the problem and it was sexism. These (mostly middle-class and white) women were taught to find happiness in cleaning products, perfect dinners and occasionally entertaining the husband’s boss. Their own dreams would be packed away in a hope chest. My mother, who was married in 1962, once told me, “I should have finished college and maybe become a lawyer.” But women went to college to find husbands and a chance to move out of their parents home. They traded their father’s name for their husband’s name and kept the “father knows best” machine moving forward at the cost of their own personhood.

The book created a revolution on a macro level, waking up a generation of women to the lie of domestic bliss. Some recently awakened feminists worked with their husbands to create partnerships and trade “Mrs.” for “Ms.” Others just walked out the door to find their freedom. But, at its core The Feminine Mystique is a micro-level psychological evaluation of the soul crushing way patriarchy takes a female’s humanity away and replaces it with a myth, propped up by bottles of “mother’s little helper.”

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Fifty-three years later women now make up 47% of the total U.S. work force and while they still have to work over three extra months to earn the same income as men, there is an unspoken norm that women can find their path outside the home. The converse is that men can stay home and take care of the domestic front. (According to the latest data, 16% of stay-at-home parents are men.) So it shouldn’t be surprising that we men are experiencing some of the things Friedan wrote about in 1963.

When is my time?

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I used to love showing my students clips of episodes of Leave It To Beaver from the late 1950s and early 1960s and leading discussions about how far we’ve come in such a short time. What do we know about Mrs. Cleaver after six years of the show? Hardly anything! Besides cooking and cleaning and taking care of The Beaver, the rest is a mystery. It should be made clear for those who don’t know, The Beaver was her young son, Theodore. Beyond that, one can only guess.

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I’m the 2016 June Cleaver. I have a Cozy instead of a Beaver and my day is pretty full with her. I thought I’d have all this time to myself but a toddler just vacuums it right up. We drive Andrea to work at the law firm by 8 am and then we’re off. I have to get her dressed for the day and fed a healthy breakfast, half of which will end up on the floor. Maybe when Sesame Street comes on at 9 am I can jump in the shower and check my email. I try to clean while she plays but I’m often just cleaning up after her playing, trying to keep my cool as she’s spreading Andrea’s coloring pencils all over the floor or trying to pull a Basquiat on the living room wall. After lunch, she takes her much needed nap. I would like to nap as well, but her nap is much needed because I’ve got some laundry to do and, if at all possible, a bit of writing.

Afternoons we run errands and try to make plans for dinner. The good thing is the folks at the grocery store love Cozy (we are there enough). The bad thing is that doesn’t get us any free pie. If it’s sunny we might go to the park or blow bubbles on the porch, but whatever it is, it’s for the house or the kid, and not for me. Then there are ants in the kitchen, a missing sippy-cup half-full of milk and a horrible stench coming from the diaper bucket. By the time we pick up Andrea downtown at 5, I’m wondering where the day went. “How was your day?” she’ll ask. “Good. Cozy didn’t eat any crayons,” I’ll say. And through this there are an infinite number diaper changes (nothing in a diaper can shock me now) and plenty of carrying the baby around trying to turn her grumpy mood around. It’s wonderful and yet it feels like it is erasing me.

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When Andrea gets home, I like to imagine it’s going to be a shift change and I’ll just crack open a beer. But she’s just put in a full day of work at a very busy firm. She needs to just unwind and veg out of a while. Doing the dishes or making dinner seems extra difficult when you’ve been just been slaving 8 to 5. “How about take-out tonight?” There’s some time to play with baby and wife, but I prefer just playing with the wife by that point. Then maybe a TV show and story time and hope we’ve got a little body memory left once the kid hits the sack.

But I’m lucky. My wife knows how this transition has been like for me. I went from a fulfilling career that impacted many lives to spending my days trying to figure out what’s in the kid’s mouth. I went from long discussions on the complexities of Queer Theory to babbling about  poop. “Baby make a caca?” So she’s given me a free pass to the bar or the coffee shop whenever I need it. Of course, I want to go to those places with her. Bars really need daycare areas. But I do get a night out for a show each month. Last week I saw Ages and Ages at the Doug Fir and slammed whiskeys on ice to make up for lost time. It’s a brief window into the person I was.

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There should be enough time in the day to get everything done in the house but there never is. Cozy is a tasmanian devil and if there’s anything left from the tax return, I’m buying an apron that says, “I hate housework.” I feel guilty asking Andrea to help but she does anyway. Unlike the working husband who has no clue what is stay-at-home wife’s life is like, she has a pretty good idea of the daily strain of being Mr. Mom.

Walk a mile in my slippers

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I first read The Feminine Mystique in grad school as a “feminist scholar.” Now I feel like I’m living it. The great irony is that millions of men are living it and probably bitching and moaning and wondering when they can have three hours just to sit and watch a baseball game. Alone. Hopefully they’ll see that this experience has been the norm for so many women for so long. It explains why a generation of moms got lost in handfuls of Valium and stacks of romance novels. More than once I’ve eyed the booze and muttered, “Calgon, take me away!

But it might be slightly different for men for two reasons. The first is that I had my time in the self-actualizing world of work. I made something amazing and then left it behind for childcare. Friedan’s women mostly went from school to marriage. In a sense, they didn’t know what they were missing, they just knew they were missing something. Those women are now finding out. But men who leave the work world leave a world that defined their core identity. Then: “What do you do?” “I’m a sociology professor.” Now: “What do you do?” “I think about what I did.”

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The second reason is the American definition of masculinity has laid heavily on the idea of being the breadwinner of the family. That iconic image of the working man is still a giant pillar of popular culture. To not occupy what feminist theorist Dorothy Smith called the “public sphere” is hard enough, but to not be the primary income generator is counter to all the gender socialization men have had for generations. In Trump America, to be not be financially strong is to be a “loser.”

One of the purposes of this blog is to mark all the times that I get it. Those little micro-moments that women have experienced a billion times that are blocked out by my lens of male privilege. And I’ve had many. But as the balance bounces a bit, it may be time to write a new version of The Feminine Mystique for men who are at home with the kids and wondering if there is more to life than uploading e-coupons and catching the first half of Ellen.

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I truly love this time at home with Cozy. And there’s an extra thrill when Andrea is a excited when I’ve come up with a new spin on macaroni and cheese (mushrooms and avocado!). But I am anxious to get back to work and reconnect with my outside-world self. The other option is that I’ll be writing articles for Cosmopolitan about how to turn your woman on with the right macaroni and cheese recipe. (Mushrooms and avocado!) But to my mother, yes, you should have gone to law school, but thank you for all that mac and cheese.

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Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

February 2, 2016

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I give up. I was ready to give up on American football before Concussion, the recent Will Smith movie that focuses on the NFL hiding the issue of the staggering number of serious head injuries among players. I was ready to give up before the endless stories of boys in high school who have died while playing football. I was ready to give up before the continuous stream of stories about college and professional football players beating the women in their lives. I was even ready to give up before Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s bra off at Superbowl 38 and the controversy was more about almost seeing her nipple than it was about the implied sexual aggression against women. You can have it, but I’m giving up.

I was ready in 1978, the day I sat on the bus after a B-team football game with the rest of the members of my team at Redan High School. We had lost the game and I took it in stride. But I questioned another player who was in tears. He said, “If you don’t care about this team to cry when we lose then you don’t belong on the team.” And then he beat me up. I quit the next day and joined the punk rocker team.

It might surprise some folks that I was a huge football fan as a kid. I was obsessed with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970’s and can still name the starting offensive team (including kicker Garo Yepremiam). In 4th grade I wrote a letter to coach Don Shula asking him why the Dolphins never played my hometown Atlanta Falcons. After that the O.J. Simpson poster was on the wall right next to Farrah. There was nothing more blissful than a Sunday watching the NFL highlight reel and all the great tackles shown in slow motion.

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In my podunk Georgia county (Dekalb in the 1970s), there were no middle schools. So 8th grade was the first year of high school. You want to feel small? And I skipped 5th grade so I was essentially a 7th grade kid in high school. The only way for a 12-year-old boy (or any boy) to stake his claim for Southern masculinity was to join the football team. No cuts. You show up to practice in the sweltering Georgia sun and you are on the team. You might be tenth string but you get to wear the jacket and be in the team picture and sit in the front at pep rallies. Oh, and you get cheerleaders cheering for you. And the only people that get to beat you up are your teammates.

So I rode the bench as an outside linebacker (#53) for three years. I was skinny but fast so when I did get to play I channeled those NFL films and did recover a fumble in one big game against Cross Keys High School. At most of the games me and the other sideline jockeys would smack our helmets against the bleachers to make it look like we got in some good hits. When I left in 10th grade I was happy to let the jocks have their game and get out without a serious injury. (The first year I broke my tailbone. The second year I broke my thumb. The third year I ripped a muscle in my back and got to sit in the hottub during afternoon practices.)

But it’s hard not to be a casual football fan with all the billions spent on hyping college and pro football. Even last year I wondered if feminism and Super Bowls could exist side-by-side. Football is the only major sport where there is not some reasonable equivalent for females. (And don’t you dare say, “Lingerie Bowl.”) At least Major League Baseball has women’s softball to narrow the gap. If my daughter wants to become a part of the NFL, her best option is to become the wife of a player and risk abuse that comes from a guy who is being exploited and has been hit in the head too many times. Or she can be a cheerleader, cheering on the guys and getting paid minimum wage. But who cheers for the cheerleader? Even management in the NFL is an old boys club. What’s a female football lover to do?

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The abuse of women by players (and fans) is an old sad story. The new wrinkle to that story is the growing understanding of the cumulative effect of countless head blows that players get as part of their job description. And this starts when they are unpaid players in school. Yet people are still making millions off these young men killing themselves for our entertainment. A few will make it to retirement with a nest egg but more are just chewed up by the machine. There is even a Wikipedia page for NFL players who died while still playing and you have to stop wondering when you see all the suicides. But go team!

There is, of course, a racial and class element to this as poor boys from inner cities and rural communities are told their one way to the American Dream is through professional sports, especially the hyper-masculine world of football. They can have everything they see dangled in front of them on ESPN, including super-model wives. All they have to do is sell their soul (or brains, ACLs, and spines) to the game and hope they are one of the few that has a post-career life worth living.

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This issue is finally getting some attention. The NFL reports that this season there were 317 reported concussions of NFL players. (Who knows how many are unreported?) And that number may be down because of better helmets for teams that can afford the latest, most expensive protective gear. I doubt the inner city high school team is in line for the new top-of-the-line Xenith helmets any time soon. And there is a new effort to decouple the violence on the grid iron from the violence in the home front that is encouraging. You just wonder if the neurology of football can counter a few well-meaning PSAs. But I have to say I have a big ol’ man-crush on former LA Ram Terry Crews and his efforts to bring these issues to the audience that needs to hear it the most. There are feminist football players, y’all.

In a society that claims to preach, “Violence is not the answer,” why do we still obsess over the macho violence of football? In football, violence IS the answer, and the harder the better. I’m not immune to this. As a kid in Georgia I would go to stock car races and PRAY to see a big crash. The game itself can be fascinating and artful and (in those slow-motion NFL films) can look more like ballet, than war. But there is a growing body count that is part of the cost. And that includes battered women who are beaten by brain-damaged players and former players.

I’m just not sure it’s worth all the hype. Sure it’s fun to meet friends to watch a big college bowl together. Maybe you even went to that school 100 years ago. And I know some people want to watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials,” but your are going to see every single one of those commercials a thousand times over the next three months (including whatever sexist crap GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr will throw at us). There certainly is a thrill to watching a live sporting event as it happens, and not TIVO’d (or like with the last Olympics, on a 3-day tape delay). To share in a global experience can be unifying and exhilarating. (Just witness my freak out for the World Cup every four years.) It crosses political, racial, class and even gender lines. I bet even Bernie Sanders has a pick for the big game. (I can hear him say, “I’m quite impressed the the Carolina Panthers ability to reduce the inequity between the salaries for its support staff and its management.”)

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I won’t hold it against you if you are all in for the sport and Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’m out. I’ve devoted enough time watching reruns of players getting folded, spindled and mutilated and just thinking, “That’s awesome!” This year, out of respect for the dozen boys who died playing high school football in 2015, like 17-year-olds Luke Schemm and Andre Smith, I’m going to spend Sunday hanging out with my daughter. Maybe we’ll go to the duckpond or go shopping. And I’m trying to teach her to play catch so she can play softball someday.

Edit: I’m supposed to watch this Frontline story: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

I’m in charge of your butthole: The intimate world of parenting

January 20, 2016

This is a piece I’ve tried to figure out how to write for a while. It could simply be a meditation on something that every parent has thought about. Or it could be just plain icky. This could go either way. Here is something that every parent of a young child can relate to or here is something that screams for state intervention. Okay, here goes. There is a sensual element to parenting a child.

Before you get on the horn to DHSS, there is a difference between sensual and sexual. If fact, as I’ve written about before, being a parent can really interrupt the sexual. We’ve come to refer to our wonderful daughter as the “great cock blocker,” as we reminisce about the good old days when we were crazed weasels who, well, you can guess. All the time.

There’s still weasel action but there is also this other thing. Someday I will write about the increase in connection with a person you’ve had a child with, but this is the trickier area of the relationship between father and child. I was thinking about what to write about today when Cozy, now 17 months, started stroking my hair. I don’t know if she was doing it to be nice to her stressed-out dad or she was assessing how much conditioner I needed, but it felt nice. And I realized how many moments we have like that. Moments where we just snuggle or give kisses or just look into each other’s eyes and I wonder how bizarre it is that I’ve played a role in the existence of this beautiful creature.

It shouldn’t be creepy to be routinely humbled by how soft baby skin is. It’s like as if there was a freaking baby panda that was actually a cloud. I feel like like a chewed up piece of 80 grit sandpaper compared to even the bottom of her feet. There’s a whole industrial machine that sells “baby soft” products, but they can’t even approach my baby’s bottom. Since much of the time is spent holding or changing my daughter there’s a lot of skin to skin contact. Sometimes that’s depressing (“Honey, your father is not the Crypt Keeper, he just grew up in Georgia.”) but often it’s awe inspiring. Did we all start off so perfect and unblemished?

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My ethnic heritage on my father’s side is Czech. Czechs tend to be moley people. Cozy was born this wonderful Czech-Mex mix. Her blue eyes turned brown after about a week. And a week after that she got a little mole on her butt. It just appeared like a message from my ancestors. Every time I change her, I’m reminded of that genetic line. Also when she runs around the house bottomless. Hey, sometimes you’ve gotta air your business out.

I grew up in a weird time and space, the South in the 1970s. On one hand it was the Bible Belt so there were plenty of people who thought bodies were dirty things to be covered (because of that bitch, Eve). On the other hand, it was the height of sexual liberation and people were walking around their homes naked with copies of Playboy and Our Bodies, Our Selves on the coffee table. (My parents were from Ohio and midwesterners just ignore anything sexual.) I have to think those mixed messages didn’t do the psyche of my generation any good.

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Cozy bathes with her parents fairly regularly. She and I had a shower together this morning. It’s really just a way to be efficient. I can watch her if she’s in the tub with me and we can save water on the probably much-needed booty hose down. It is perfectly innocent but I am aware there are some very uptight people who would see it as inappropriate. I know at some point one of us will grow out it, but it’s a nice thing we share. I’ve got friends that showered with their kids into the double digits (in Georgia!), so maybe I’m too worried about the Bible thumpers and their cousins in ISIS.

It is funny when she waddles into the bathroom when I’m standing there peeing. She has this confused look on her face as she tries to figure out what my penis is. I always feel uncomfortable and sing this little song I made up.

What are you looking at Baby B?

What are you looking at, what do you see?

What are you looking at, you’re looking at me.

You better not be looking at my pee pee.

You can’t not have an intimate relationship with a child after you’ve changed thousands of diapers. I know her vagina better than I know most of my family members. And that thing is as clean as a field hockey coach’s whistle. (Wait, that sounds rather dirty.) As a stay-at-home dad, I am the primary agent of her undercarriage management. I often joke that I am on “Butthole Patrol,” because you don’t want to let a kid sit in a dirty diaper too long or you’re gonna need a power sprayer to do the job. (How I envy the French and their clever bidets.) As much as I want the kiddie potty to take over my job, their is something bonding about the diaper change ritual. Eye contact and mutual trust, and a song from dad. (This week it’s been David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”)

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Freud, Foucault and Judith Butler all have written about the psychic damage done to boys who have to be weened from their mothers and switch their identification to their fathers. In this new age of stay-at-home dads there is the interesting question about daughters who have similar intimate connection to their fathers. How will Cozy’s psycho-sexual identity be affected by all this time we spend together, including the showers and diaper changes? Perhaps not at all, or perhaps she’ll have a solid sense of self that is not defined by one idea of gender or genders.

I do know it has affected me. Besides the protective “papa bear” mandate it fuels, I also feel more like an actual human being. This is a true connection between two people. She might not remember any of it, but I’ll never forget any of it. Before I put her to bed, we have a little dance to some soft music and she puts her head on my shoulder and I make a wish that this dance never ends.

How David Bowie Bent My Gender

January 11, 2016

This is a strange bifurcation point on our blue planet. From this point on there is no David Bowie to share the world with. Like people born after 1980 who claim John Lennon, or those born after 1959 who claim Billie Holiday (as they have a right to), every child born after today will never anticipate hearing David Bowie’s new song on the radio or changing their fashion to fit Bowie’s new style. It’s all just back catalog now. He can’t be truly their peer. Fortunately there’s enough there for future generations to mine for inspiration.

I awoke this morning to a message from my friend Roy in England that just said, “Sad day for music.” A sense of dread swelled up. I know that I am likely to witness the passing of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Patti Smith. What will the world be like without them? For the moment we share the same sunlight and oxygen supply. When there is a lunar eclipse, I know that Paul McCartney and Toni Morrison are looking at it, too. I know there is a chance that I could bump into Smokey Robinson or Elton John getting coffee in an airport somewhere in the world. We share this tiny globe together.

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But not with Bowie. He is gone so unexpectedly. I was in New York City all weekend and was waiting for today to get Blackstar, his heralded new album. The beginning of the next phase of Bowie in our lives. Would there be a tour? Would I get a new haircut to look like him? Again? I should have found him on his deathbed there in Manhattan to thank him. A kiss on his alien eyelids.

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For those of us that came of age in the 1970s, David Bowie was more than a “rockstar.” He was an avatar of our awkward young selves as gangly beings who had just fallen to earth, genderless and omni-sexual. I was an Apollo kid so it started with “Space Oddity,” and imagining the astronauts circling our troubled planet. But when Ziggy Stardust arrived, I could see clues to a third path, somewhere between male and female that was beautiful and personal. Glam rock was liberation, even if was just the thought of it. “Rebel, rebel. You’ve got your mother in a whirl ’cause she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”

That was the beginning of me wanting to grow my hair long. Endless battles with my mother (“Boys with long hair are all on drugs!”) and my father (“Why would you want to look like a girl?”). Each half inch it grew, you’d get called “fag,” and “queer,” in rural Georgia. (Of course, once Willie and Waylon grew their hair out all that ended.) If word got around you were a Bowie fan, that was like declaring your homosexuality. “You must be AC-DC like him!” I didn’t really care. The music came from some place magical. His self-declared bisexuality created a safe zone for us as we engaged in our own space exploration. My sexuality was never an issue. The sanity of the world I expressed it in was.

All us misfit kids had Bowie. Before punk roared in, we had Bowie to speak for us and to tell us we were wonderful. “Rock and Roll Suicide,” must be an anthem for so many young people, both then and now, who feel zero validation from the straight world. It’s a reason to reject suicide as an option.

You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair

You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care

Oh no love! you’re not alone

No matter what or who you’ve been

No matter when or where you’ve seen

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain

I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain

You’re not alone

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In fourth grade, when the other kids were obsessed with the Captain and Tennille, me and my little goon squad were memorizing “Young Americans,” and “Fame,” (listening for John Lennon’s voice). It was like a secret society. You had to say, “Oh yeah, Deep Purple rocks!” and then find out what kid in the neighborhood had a copy of Diamond Dogs you could borrow, being sure to hide it from your parents’ gaydar.

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Bowie always defined gender non-conformity. Wearing make-up, dying his hair, wearing a skirt on Saturday Night Live. In a culture obsessed with a simple gender binary, what could be more rebellious than that? Boys keep swinging! For all us kids that didn’t quite fit in the butch boy/femme girl box, we had permission to mix and match and create something completely new.

My first sociology professor at Oxford College who radicalized me in so many ways had a bit of blind spot around queer issues. I remember him trying to make the case that we are all sexual but socialized to be heterosexual and if that process gets messed up we end up confused, “like David Bowie.” I remember thinking, Wait, that’s not right. Bowie’s not “broken,” he is just free and rebelling against social constructions of gender. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

So, yeah, I have every piece of music that Bowie has released (except Blackstar, which is sold out all over the city). I have b-sides and oddities. Have you heard the soundtrack to The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)? You should. I’ve seen him in concert several times. My favorite moment was at Live Aid in London in 1985. I was right front for the global event. All my favorite stars were there. I should mention that I really hated Bowie’s Let’s Dance album when it came out in 1983. It was such a commercial piece of fluff compared to 1980’s Scary Monsters (although it has aged better than I have). So I was supremely bummed when he opened with “Modern Love,” my least favorite Bowie song. But then he played “Heroes,” and it could not have been more perfect. We were there trying to feed the world, just for one day. There were tears everywhere. Bowie transformed us.

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He transformed us many times. He loosened us from our moorings. He made being smart and aging into your 60s look really, really cool and never stopped playing with our weird obsession with gender roles. All the kids that got beat up for being “Bowie fags” can have the last laugh (the ones that weren’t murdered, at least). Now that he’s dead, everybody will claim him as their own.

He’s never not been with me. His ex-wife, Angie Bowie, was my first guest speaker at Emory, delighting my students with tales of Ziggy and Iggy and the glam explosion. I courted my wife, Andrea, with mix CDs that linked Bowie songs to Nina Simone songs. When Cozy was born, I sang “Little Wonder” to her repeatedly (and “Space Oddity” when I strapped her in her car seat). And she’s napping to Station To Station as I write this. I want her to have the sexual and gender freedom that was so hard for us over forty years ago. But for all the goon squads out there, Bowie made it a lot easier and cooler.

A lot will be written this week about the Thin White Duke as a “chameleon” and all the ch-ch-changes he went through, the movies he made and the fashions he inspired. I just think about us kids who didn’t fit in who got to feel that we had a very special space boy on our side.

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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Gender Notes: A Short Note About Mexico

July 21, 2015

I’m loving my time in Mexico and we’re not even half-way through the adventure. Every day holds a dozen new sensations and the people are so generous here, it puts self-absorbed Americans to shame. Mexico is a complex country, existing in the high tech modern and almost feudal rural worlds at the same time. My feminist brain has noticed some deeply gendered realities, but I have to remind myself that it’s not just Mexico that can get caught in the past. I’m sure that rural Alabama is basically the same.

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I’m back with my family in Andrea’s grandmother’s town. It’s a little place called Puente de Ixtla in the state of Morelos, near Mexico City. The house is really a group of houses for the family. Andrea’s abuela lives in the house in front and some of her dozen children live in other houses on the property. It’s like a family compound known as a vecindad and it keeps the family close to each other. That means there’s a host of uncles that can help take care of grandma.

But in reality, it’s the uncle’s wives that do most of the work. In a classic gender division of labor, the women stay in the house cooking and cleaning constantly. As a guest, it’s wonderful to be the recipient of such hospitality. I can’t say no to all this amazing food, but when I helped Andrea wash the dishes, there were some laughs. What’s a man doing washing dishes?

This isn’t just a rural Mexican thing. Dorothy Smith wrote about this over forty years ago. Women are relegated to the domestic realm while men exist outside the house. Virginia Woolf wrote about it long before that. There’s really no reason for the woman here to leave the house except for an occasional trip to the market. There’s even a whole army of beeping trucks and honking bikes who will deliver everything from tortillas to propane to your door. The streets are filled with a barrage of these sounds on the lookout for housewives who will flag them down.

You could make the case that this system exists because it works. But who does it work for? Just like Betty Friedan addressed in The Feminine Mystique in 1963, these women are fully formed human beings, not domestic robots. Just maybe, at one point in their lives, they imagined themselves pursuing their own dreams and goals. Of course this way of life is so deeply rooted, being a “good wife” may be the only objective.

This gender dynamic played out last night. I got pulled in to a drinking contest with an uncle we will just refer to as Tio Diablo. I let my own macho desire to not be shown up get the better of me. I didn’t want to be the “American wimp” with this hard drinking lot (and I’m paying for it today). A group of us were sitting outside drinking 40s and Grandma, 84, was chugging the Coronas. One of the uncles’ kids is a beautiful 4-year-old girl and Grandma gave her a sip of her beer. I was a bit shocked but then she started just sharing the beer with this child who was enjoying it way too much. I asked the girl if she was OK and she just smiled. It was a case of bystander apathy. Later, I was angry at myself for not intervening right away. Children’s brain development can be seriously compromised by alcohol. What if grandma thinks it’s “cute” to give Cozy beer?

I don’t expect Andrea’s abuela to be up on the latest research on pediatric cognitive development, but there’s bigger issue at work. This girl is on a trajectory to be another housewife and if she loses a few brain cells, it shouldn’t interfere with her ability to get supper on the table. Added to it is an element of racism. Because this little girl has more of an indigenous Mexican look she is also devalued, as opposed to Cozy who is fawned over because she is so “white” looking.

I talked to Andrea about the beer thing and she talked to her mom and there was a little chat with Grandma. So I think the beer thing is dealt with. I did get an epic evil eye from her for bringing my Yankee values to her casa, but who cares, this little girl deserves every possible chance to do whatever she wants to in life.

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I’ve often lectured about how we can be ethnocentric when viewing other cultures, but sometimes it make sense. I have wonder what it would be like if a wave of feminist consciousness swept Puente de Ixtla like it did America fifty years ago. Men might have to start washing their own dishes! And maybe women would get dressed up and go out on the town for a bit of fun.

I don’t want this post to sound ungrateful for all the wonderful hospitality I’ve enjoyed here.  Andrea’s family is vibrant and hilarious, singing and laughing. It really is like a dream to be here. And Cozy Valentina loves all the attention. Family is so important. I just want everybody in the family to be fully valued.

Dial your douchebag down: How to.

July 8, 2015

Ah, summertime when a boy’s mind turns to, well these days, probably endless video games. I was a bit girl crazy as a boy (not that I ever did anything about it) and it was the “crazy” part that got me into trouble later. You see (feminist blogger confession coming), I was trained to be a girl watcher. As a 70’s kid, I came of age in the era of “jiggle TV” (Google it). I had a poster of Charlie’s Angels on my wall with Jacyln Smith’s cleavage stationed right at eye level.

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The message was clear. Men are to look and women are to be looked at. There was no concept that they might not want to be looked at that way or that men should be equally objectified. Females were just eye candy.

This was reinforced all around me. Men’s magazine’s had pictures of women to look at, but so did women’s magazines. My mom’s Glamour magazine provided more fantasy material than Playboy ever could. And my father was not shy about craning his neck to see a pretty girl, once almost driving the car off the road. There was no counter message about the real impact of all this girl watching.

I’m going to save, for another day, the discussion of beauty myth and what the toll is of the atmosphere of non-stop (mostly airbrushed) images of “beautiful” women. And there is even another discussion about the social construction of beauty itself. Today, from my little cafe on Isla Mujeres, I want to write about the cost of looking.

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So, as you may know, I’m currently living on an island in the Caribbean called Isla Mujeres, writing and helping teach a course on research methods. Isla Mujeres – Island of Women. While there are Mayan goddess roots to that name, the marketing of the island alludes to the fact that beautiful women from around the world come here for sun and fun, so boys head over with your pesos. I would be an idiot not to notice the contrast between the locals and the large numbers of young people (including female people) wandering around in their bathing suits. So does this give me permission to girl-watch? I mean, my wife and child won’t join me here for over two weeks. What could be the harm?

This has long been an issue for me that I think I finally have a handle on. They say old habits are hard to break and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but psychologists will tell you that even longstanding synaptic pathways can be re-wired. Those deep ruts, worn in from bad cognitive patterns can be rebuilt.

I’ll start with a little story that gives me a starting point. In 1994, I was nearing the end of my doctoral dissertation at Emory but also doing a lot of spoken word performances. I was to asked to organize the poetry events for part of the Lollapalooza tour that year (the one with the Beastie Boys). That year the big fad was for young women to just wear bras, with no shirt. I imagine that that was quite liberating in sweaty but conservative Georgia. My girlfriend at the time, Christina D., caught me looking and asked, “What are you thinking about?” Now this was at a time when I was fully embracing feminism and assigning Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth to my students at Emory. My answer to her was, “I was just thinking about how I want to fuck every single one of these girls.”

Such a dochebag moment. There was no thought of how that statement would hurt her let alone the impact of the activity itself. And she’d called me on it before. In fact, often after margaritas, this 5 foot 1 “girl” would kick my ass down the street for ogling women. (Those of you that knew Christina D. can surely see this happening.) My defense? A. Men are just more visually stimulated than women. And B. I’m just looking.

This issue had been a long-running problem in my relationships. One minute I was lecturing about the male gaze in patriarchal mainstream media, and the next I was checking out a coed walking across campus. I’d write it off as no big deal. I don’t care about those women on a personal level and will probably forget I ever saw them. But each one probably was a little stab for the woman I was with. “He says he loves me but why does he do this to me?”

I’m not sure how this plays in same sex relationships, but in male-female relationships there are two elements of gender socialization that factor into it. The first is that men learn male bonding at a very early age. We may compete on the basketball court, but, at the end of the day, we’re headed to the same treehouse. (“Bros before hos, bro! Jaeger shots!) Girls are trained to compete with each other for the same scarce resource, the Bachelor. (“Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”) So while dudes are calling each other “bro,” girls and grown women are calling each other “skank.” Divide and conquer the ladies.

The second part is that once bro and skank are in a relationship, not only does he not want to talk about the relationship, he doesn’t want to even hear about it. It’s her job to maintain the whole thing (I have an earlier blogpost about this), so when there is a problem (and there always is) she’s expected to suffer in silence. Until it all blows up and bro asks, “What the fuck?” Then some other bro will just say, “What do expect from a ho? They’re all crazy.”

This where I can help both parties. Learn from my mistakes. Bro, you are a human, not a bro. And she is also a human, not a ho, skank, or hooch. She might be a “swamp donkey,” but I don’t know what that means. It does not sound good. So Step One is stop dehumanizing the other. There is no other. There is only us. Us together. Step Two is don’t just listen but hear. Hear the hurt you do. You love and respect this person, hear the hurt you cause. It may mean nothing to you (“I’m just looking!”), but if hurts her and you blow it off, that’s on you. She needs to be stronger because she’s with you. Not weaker. There is an old R&B song that says, “When something is wrong with my baby, something is wrong with me.” Listen to it often.

Now if bro is not in a relationship, he may fell free and clear to stare at women. But here’s two things to chew on. 1) There is also a real impact of your male gaze on the women and (often under-aged) girls you creep on, and 2) why build a habit that you are just going to have to break later? Like, when you grow the fuck up.

There’s this video circulating this summer called “The Scientific Reason Why Guys Stare At Girls Will Surprise You.” First of all there is no actual science presented in the video. Secondly, it’s done by right-wing radio personality Dennis Prager. He’s an active anti-feminist. Just check out the other videos on his Prager “University” channel. It’s the shit that masquerades as legitimate academic thinking on the internet. The guy rivals Trump in the 2015 Douchebag footrace.

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Having said that, some of his points are rooted in general sociological thinking. Women are trained to constantly compare themselves against each other and evaluate the threat. I mean, Halle Berry’s husband, Eric Benet, cheated on Halle Berry. I mean, seriously. So I get why women might have some anxiety. And yeah, guys might just be getting a taste of eye candy, but Prager seems to be saying, “So just shut the fuck, you crazy bitches.” And bro, go right ahead and look because “Professor” Prager says, “Science!” Most importantly it serves to invalidate the very real feelings of the female in the relationship.

So much of the world under our noses seems invisible. This includes the emotional world of women – Who have been trying to tell us about it for ages. Virginia Woolf, where are you? Oh, in the bookstore? OK. But there is a paperback version of Jurassic World! But that big picture may be hard for some guys to swallow, so try this. If it’s important to your partner, it should be important to you. If turning down the Girl Watcher Eye will make her feel better about you, I promise it will make you feel better about you.

hor_122Isla MujeresThis is a really long post to say old habits can be broken. It’s not a sad thing. I’m happy to be in place so physically different from Portland and so emotionally different from 1994. And I’m almost as naked as everybody else, so… When I finally heard my wife, I started rewiring my brain and it feels nice. So besides the goddess Ixchel (above), there’s only one girl I want to watch. OK, two. Which means get ready for devastatingly cute pictures of Cozy at the beach.

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

June 25, 2015

I’m glad that transexual folks are getting some love these days. It makes the fact that, still, almost each day a transperson is murdered tinged with a little more hope. (If only they had Caitlyn Jenner’s money.) It’s a topic I want to write more about, but the link here is that it has opened a wider discussion about the fluidity of gender, and as a promoter of Queer Theory, I think that is much needed.

When we found out that Cozy had a sex (female) we started thinking about her gender (who knows). A big part of me didn’t want to know her sex before she was born to avoid the temptation to start the gender socialization before she was even out. Andrea and I had a conversation about at least putting the kibosh on all things pink. We painted her nursery a calming aqua blue.

It didn’t matter. Waves of pink stuff came in. At the baby shower and afterwards. We inherited secondhand baby girl clothes that were pink. And after I’d done a few loads of laundry, pretty much everything was pink. But my mom had sent a bunch of my baby clothes (from the days of the Johnson Administration,  Andrew Johnson) so she’s worn plenty of boy clothes as well. It’s funny how when she’s not in pink, people refer to her as “he.” “Oh, he’s such a cute boy.”

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There are really four or five parts to your gender. The first is biological. That’s your genes and whatever you’ve got going on between your legs. Add to that sexual orientation. Do you like the other sex, your sex, or a bit of both on a Saturday night? But then there’s how you see  yourself. Some people feel they are born in the right body, but there are a lot of people who feel they are other than the gender society has labeled them. These are our trans friends. After that is how we present our gender to others. Are you more “Butch” or “Femme”? Sloppy dads are somewhere in the middle. Finally, you can add the gender presentation you are attracted to.  As a child of the seventies, I’m a sucker for long, flowing hair (unless I’m watching women’s World Cup soccer). This can sound really complicated, but there’s a great exercise called Gender Gumby that makes it easy.

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The point is that everybody is a bit different where they plot themselves on Gender Gumby. And because Gumby is flexible, each of us can be different everyday. Occasionally, I like to butch it up and put my Doc Marten boots on and blast some Slayer. Then there was the first time I saw Soundgardern play and stared at Chris Cornell for an hour. Flexible! Lots of queer folks have to play it down on occasion and the straightest Conservatives can get super kinky behind closed doors.

OK, back to the baby. Cozy has a sex but no gender yet. She’s 10 months old and I’m in no hurry to push her into that bag. She is beyond gender and it’s really cool to see that freedom. She doesn’t “act like a girl” in any way, but it’s fun to see the “gendered” behavior that could be ascribed to her.

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Cozy likes to climb. She’s like a little tank. She climbs over everything, including Mom and Dad. I’m sure if she was a boy, people would say, “He’s just being a boy.” Cozy likes to slap dad. She thinks it’s funny. Sometimes in restaurants she likes to be loud. Actually, she likes to be loud a lot. She and I have the occasional screaming contest. Boys will be boys. There is a baby doll in the house. I don’t know where it came from. She doesn’t have much interest in it and would rather play with Dad’s box of dominoes. (For the record, I had dolls named Raggedy Andy and Dapper Dan.)  She has a little “car” that we call the Cozymobile. She just loves to go fast as she can in it. Give this girl a fashion magazine and she will rip it to shreds in minutes. That’s my little feminist.

She sees Dad cooking and Mom working on her paintings. I don’t think I have to worry about her home environment, but at some point peers and media and school and religion will send her messages about more traditional gender performances (aka “patriarchy”), but for now she is completely blurring, or “queering,” the gender lines. In the past we called this being a “tom boy” but in the future we will call it being a girl.

Babies don’t really have a gender. They are asexual little blobs of joy that we shape into mirrors of our own fears and insecurities. Any armchair analysis of the mothers on Toddlers and Tiaras will tell you that. Or dads forcing their kids to play the sports that they failed at. But there is also a chance to free our children of the suffocating constraints of oppressive gender rules. Every parent that has told a boy not to “cry like a girl” has deeply wounded that child in a way that is life lasting. The same goes every parent that tells their daughter that she is pretty and that’s enough. Let’s raise whole children, not ones from Venus or Mars.

And in 2019, Cozy and I will be glued to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. But for now, Go USA! Beat China!

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