Why Melissa Stetten Was Right To Live-Tweet Brian Presley’s Clumsy Come-Ons

My column at Jezebel comes early this week: Creepy Dudes Who Can’t Take No For an Answer Are Fair Game for Mass Ridicule. Excerpts:

Was it the justified outing of a minor celebrity cheater or a cruel and dishonest act of self-promotion? The debate over model Melissa Stetten’s now infamous tweets about soap actor Brian Presley’s clumsy, malapropism-laden attempt to hit on her during a cross-country fight has gone viral. In case you missed it, the 22 year-old Stetten put her inflight WiFi to devastatingly clever use the night of June 6 as she flew on a Virgin America redeye from LA to New York, livetweeting every embarrassing detail of her married seatmate’s adulterous come-ons. By the weekend, People, Glamour and the Guardian had picked up the story, and Presley –- a 34 year-old father and star of the old ABC soap Port Charles — issued a blanket denial on his Facebook fan page of Stetten’s account of the flight…

Near the end of her tweet stream, even Stetten wonders if she’s gone to far, asking self-consciously: “Did I just ruin Brian Presley’s life via twitter?” Judging by the public reaction, many people agree she has. But by asking the question, Stetten herself is buying into the notion that because she’s a woman, she’s somehow charged with protecting a man from the consequences of his own recklessness. Even if Presley’s life is “ruined,” which seems highly unlikely, it’s a mistake to hold a woman responsible for that destruction simply because she had the audacity to tell the truth. Why should a stranger on a plane have greater respect for his reputation and his marriage vows than he himself is willing to display? Can we please stop assuming that men have a right to outsource both their self-control and their discretion to every random woman who has the outrageous audacity to be attractive in public?

Read the whole thing. For a very different take, check out Alexandra Gekas at The Frisky today: In Defense Of Brian Presley (Or Why Melissa Stetten Comes Off Like The Jerk For Live-Tweeting Their Conversation).

Proving Masculine Prowess at Women’s Expense: Why A School Sex Scandal Isn’t What it First Appears To Be

My column at Role/Reboot today looks at a recent school sex scandal in New York City: Hot for Teacher, Or Hot for Praise? Excerpt:

Last week, the New York Post published exclusive photos of a public make-out session between 26-year-old Julie Warning, a global studies teacher at Manhattan Theater Lab High School, and an 18-year-old student of hers named Eric Arty. The splendidly-named (and untenured) Warning was placed on administrative leave; because the student was legally an adult, she faces no criminal charges. Like other women in similar situations before her, she does face the intense and humiliating scrutiny of the media; the Post described her as looking “like a wild child” on her Facebook page. (Warning, meanwhile, continues to deny that the pictures are actually of her and Arty.)

Last Thursday, the Post published a follow-up, including an interview with another of Warning’s students, who admitted that Arty had seduced his teacher as part of a pricey competition with several male classmates. “It was a bet with a group of his friends,” junior Andrew Cabrera told the paper, and “they gave (Arty) the $500 pot” after he successfully hooked up with Warning. According to the Gothamist, Arty claims to regret the trouble he’s caused his teacher, telling friends “I really started feeling for the shorty.” Nonetheless, the Post described Arty as “smug-looking” when a group of his friends descended last week on his Washington Heights home to “salute their conquering hero.” Meanwhile, the Gothamist reported that an ambulance was dispatched to the Warning family home to care for a woman who had requested transportation to a hospital…

Julie Warning may have made her own poor choices, but if the facts are close to what the Post and Gothamist have reported, she was also a victim of a cruel and familiar male sexual pattern. As a young, pretty teacher, she was surely the object of her students’ fantasies. But her perceived sexual attractiveness also made her an unwitting trophy in a puerile competition. In that contest, however, the top prize isn’t the hook-up itself. Nor is it the cash that Arty evidently won. The laurel is the crowd of cheering peers outside Arty’s home; the real blue ribbon is the notoriety that comes with being the guy who beat out all his buddies to score with the hapless “shorty.”

I know that female teachers (and other authority figures) can and do rape boys. The fact that they do it with a good deal less frequency than their male counterparts rape and assault young girls doesn’t excuse their crimes. But the Warning-Arty case shows us that when we’re dealing with young female teachers and legally adult male students in thrall to a destructive guy code, the question of just who is exploiting whom is decidedly murky…

Of vibrators, clitoridectomies, and the story behind the Hysteria movie

I’m back from baby hiatus with a new Genderal Interest column at Jezebel today: Vibrators and Clitoridectomies: How Victorian Doctors Took Control of Women’s Orgasms. Riffing on the popularity of the new movie Hysteria, the article looks at the different approaches to women’s bodies — and women’s pleasure — in Victorian England. Excerpt:

It’s as easy to celebrate Dr. Granville, the vibrator inventor and hero of the Hysteria movie, as it is to demonize his genital-mutilating contemporary, Dr. Baker-Brown. But the two Victorian physicians had much in common. Not only did both believe in hysteria as a legitimate medical condition, they both believed in men’s responsibility to exert complete mastery over women’s pleasure. One wanted to make women orgasm in his office, on his terms, and with his invention. The other wanted to ensure that women didn’t orgasm at all, thanks to his procedure. Their patients obviously experienced different results, and we’re rightly more outraged by Baker-Brown than by Granville. Those differences shouldn’t obscure the reality that each made his reputation by proposing new techniques to help men control women’s sexuality.

Granville and Baker-Brown agreed on something else: the dangers of female masturbation. It was only in the mid-19th century that medical texts began to discuss the clitoris and its evident purpose. Doctors were as troubled by its location as by its possibilities; why was the clitoris located within easy reach of the average woman’s fingers but not inside the vagina, where it would be more easily stimulated during intercourse? The obvious conclusion — that women are designed to experience sexual pleasure without relying on a man –- was enormously threatening to the medical establishment (and plenty of ordinary men as well.) Female masturbation (something that some male doctors had once considered impossible) represented women’s independence. Neither Granville nor Baker-Brown could countenance that.

Junior Seau and Middle-Aged Male Despair

This week’s column at Role/Reboot looks at the tragic suicide of NFL star Junior Seau, and the larger issue of rising suicide rates among the middle-aged. Excerpt:

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, since the mid-1990s, the bullying epidemic notwithstanding, teen suicide rates have been headed in the same happy direction as teen birth rates: down. At the same time, suicide rates for middle-aged men and women have been rising dramatically, with white males ages 45 to 54 at the highest statistical risk. Though the AFSP reports that women of all ages attempt to kill themselves more often than do men, men are far more likely to do so successfully—79% of all suicides in America in 2009 were by men. Much of that discrepancy is explained by favored methods—men, like Seau, tend to choose guns, while women are much more likely to attempt to overdose on prescription pills…

In a sense, middle-aged men are victims of their own privilege. Women are forced, cruelly, to come to terms with the reality of aging much earlier in life. Whether the biological clock is real or not, women are constantly reminded by the media and by their families that they have one ticking inside of them. Men and women are fed opposite messages: Women are told that they have “less time” than they actually have, while men are often misled into believing that they have all the time in the world. As a result, midlife’s physical and emotional changes may come as a ruder shock to men than they do to their wives and sisters.

Middle-aged men are also particularly unlikely, as Fields wrote for GMP, to have strong supportive networks. For many straight, married men, their wives are often their only close friends. The culturally-driven inability to connect emotionally with other men and the false assumption that platonic friendships with women invariably threaten a marriage leave many men isolated. This is a particularly acute problem for professional athletes who have been members of closely-knit teams since boyhood. Much of the coverage of Seau’s death has focused on the violent collisions on the football field he’d endured since his childhood days in Pee Wee football. Whatever role those brutal hits played in his death, it’s worth considering an additional factor: loneliness. Seau retired from the Patriots a few months after turning 40; it marked the first time since he was 10 that he wasn’t on a team. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the sudden loss of camaraderie for the divorced Seau may have played as great a role in his despair as traumatic brain injury….

The whole article here.

The Philandering Perfectionist Papas of Park Slope: UPDATED

My latest Genderal Interest column is up: The Cheating Dads of Brooklyn. I look at the recent revelation that the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, infamous for perfectionistic parenting practices, is also the home to the greatest number of users of the adultery service Ashley Madison of any community in New York City. Excerpt:

If the wealth of Park Slope’s residents enables cheating by reducing moral inhibitions, the notoriously perfectionistic parenting ethos of the community elevates child-rearing to the sine qua non of marriage. In her novel Prospect Park West, Amy Sohn describes the Slope as a place where “marriage is a vehicle for procreation” and little more. “It’s a very undersexed neighborhood,” she claimed in an interview. Ashley Madison begs to differ. Park Slope may not be home to much in the way of marital fucking, but it is the City’s most fertile habitat for philanderers.

Whether Ashley Madison’s statistics are scientifically sound or total bullshit, the evidence is that entitlement drives male infidelity. Madison CEO Biderman opines that men start cheating after they become fathers because “they spend so much time working for others, they now want something for themselves.” This is the classic middle-class male martyr complex, in which men imagine themselves as helpless, hapless servants to the demands of bosses, children, and spouses. Cheating becomes justified compensation for a lifetime of labor to make other people happy. In that sense, the more conspicuous the care that’s lavished on the children, the greater the opportunity to rationalize stepping out on the marriage. (This sets the the kids up for one hell of a guilt trip when they grow up and learn that daddy stepped out on mommy because all his noble focus on their needs deprived pops of a chance to get his much-needed man food. Congrats, pumpkin, it’s all your fault.)

The news here is not that people cheat. The news is that we can see more clearly than ever that male infidelity is correlated with the conjunction of affluence and hyper-competitive parenting. The blame here doesn’t lie with cosseted kids or man-food withholding wives. The blame lies with privileged men who confuse their own choices with the chains of obligation, and who use their own sense of self-sacrificing heroism to excuse the inexcusable.

UPDATE: A moderately critical response by KJ Dell’Antonia in the New York Times: Does Helicopter Parenting Drive Dads to Cheat?

Food, faith, and fashion: an article in the Fuller Semi

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short piece for Relevant, a Christian magazine, on Beauty and Sexuality. The same day it went up, the editor of Fuller Theological Seminary’s student magazine asked me for a follow-up piece for their spring special issue on faith and fashion. The issue went up yesterday, and my offering is here: Fashion and Food. Excerpt:

One basic truth that can’t be repeated often enough: created things can have more than one purpose. The tongue, for example: it exists to taste, to speak, and to prevent us from choking. It can also be used in kissing, or in lovemaking to give pleasure to another human being. It would be silly to rank those capabilities in any sort of hierarchical order. (Would “preventing choking” rank above or below “tasting for spoiled food”?)

What’s true of body parts is true of what we use to fuel that body. Yes, food keeps us alive. But it also is the greatest source of consistent physical pleasure that many of us will ever know; for most it is our first and last delight. The preparing and eating of meals can turn food itself into a spiritual glue that bonds communities together. And of course, food is a means of taking God into ourselves, as Jesus reminds us at the last supper. Food is many things.

So too with clothing. It exists to cover our nakedness, to keep us warm, to protect us from the rays of the sun. Uniforms of one kind or another help us distinguish certain professions or ceremonial participants: police officers, flight attendants, brides. Where clothing becomes fashion, however, is when garments move beyond the utilitarian need for comfort (or occupation signaling) and towards the provision of visual delight. The delight in gorgeous clothes and the body inside them is as natural as the delight in the taste of truly delicious food. Like anything truly beautiful, the purpose is to draw attention to a divine gift.

Please check out the other great articles at The Semi as well!

I’ll note that I’m particularly pleased to have been asked to be part of this issue. Fuller Seminary is near and dear to my heart. For many years, I lived walking distance from its flagship Pasadena campus. My most recent ex-wife got her Ph.D. from Fuller while she and I were wed. And Fuller’s long-time president, the great theologian and philosopher Richard Mouw, was my father’s very first graduate student some fifty years ago.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written for explicitly Christian audiences in explicitly Christian spaces, and it’s been a refreshing experience indeed. My appearance at Relevant was not without controversy. In that light in particular, I’m touched to have the continued support of the Fuller community and of the Relevant editorial staff.

The Appealing Absence of Empathy

The Genderal Interest column this week: Do Women Envy Sociopathic Men? Excerpt:

There may be women who fall for dangerous predators because of the evolutionary impulses that Ramsland cites; others may be filled with the desperate quixotism that Seltzer suggests, believing that their love is powerful enough to tame even a serial killer. Many surely identify with strong female characters like Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson, SVU’s brave and relentless protagonist. But admiration for the cops and lawyers who keep the streets safe is only part of the draw. For many who have made SVU and CSI into two of the most successful scripted televisions shows of the modern era, the fascination may be less about attraction than about a strange kind of envy of the shows’ sociopathic villains. How many bright, talented, acutely sensitive young women have occasionally fantasized about having an internal “mute button” that could silence the judging, nagging, needy voices of all around them?

One obvious reason for the popularity of the Law & Order and CSI franchises among women has to do with women’s greater vulnerability to violent crime. Those who are at increased risk of being targeted have a vested interest in becoming students of predatory behavior, a point made in Gavin de Becker’s indispensable The Gift of Fear. But the specific fascination so many women seem to have with serial killers and sociopaths suggests that something more is at play. For those who feel pressured to people-please and to empathize with virtually everyone, the allure of those who never feel those obligations is powerful indeed.

Why Guys Loathe the Word “Creep”

The Genderal Interest column this week at Jez looks at the real reason guys hate to be called “creepy” — and why the word is often useful. Excerpt:

At the heart of the “anti-creep shaming campaign” is a concerted effort to discourage women from relying on their instincts to protect themselves from harm. Laying aside its likely etymology, calling a dude an “asshole” is a way of labeling him a jerk. Plenty of people can be jerks without being predatory. On the other hand, calling a dude “creepy” labels him as a potential threat; a creep may not be imminently violent, but there’s almost always a sense that he shows consistent disregard for a woman’s physical or psychological space. This is why, as Wakeman wrote, “it’s a really freaking dangerous idea to twist a woman’s open, honest communication about her boundaries/expectations into ‘creep shaming’ that victimizes men.”

Though the word may be occasionally used unfairly (for example, to describe a physically unattractive guy’s genuinely respectful attempt at striking up a conversation), “creepy” serves a vital function. No other word is as effective as describing when a man has crossed a woman’s boundary; no other word forces a man to reflect on how his behavior makes other people feel. A guy can disprove accusations of being weak by displaying strength (often in foolish ways.) But a guy can only disprove the charge of creepiness by fundamentally altering his behavior to be more genuinely respectful of women.

This, of course, is why some guys hate the word so much; it forces men to reflect carefully about how they make women feel. No wonder then that so many guys are campaigning against “creep-shaming.” After all, the sooner the term becomes socially unacceptable, the sooner men can get back to not having to think about women’s boundaries.

Beauty and Sexuality at Relevant Magazine

It’s been years since I’ve written for a Christian audience, so I’m excited to have a post today at the progressive evangelical Relevant Magazine. Beauty and Sexuality revisits issues of grace, desire, community and aesthetic appreciation:

Because we refuse to take seriously men’s ability to not lust in the presence of loveliness, we shame the great many women who—whatever their other fabulous qualities—also want to be affirmed for their beauty. If every man is “fighting a battle” against lust, and if few men are capable of distinguishing appreciation for beauty from carnal longing, then every woman who dresses to be validated becomes a traitor to the cause of spiritual purity. The end result is devastating for too many. Lauren Lankford Dubinsky, founder of the Good Women Project, wrote in an email that “women are victimized by the soul-crushing weight of having your motives (or even personal worth) judged incorrectly on the basis of something as simple as an article of clothing. A huge percentage of women within the Church are silently battling eating disorders, self-harm, pornography addiction and depression—all stemming from misplaced shame, a shame they feel because fellow Christians have equated their beauty with intentional malice or deliberate seductiveness toward men.”

To put it another way, we shame men by insisting they’re fundamentally weak, constantly vulnerable to being overwhelmed by sexual impulses. We shame women for not being better stewards of that supposed weakness. That shame doesn’t just lead to unhealthy sexual relationships (including between husbands and wives); it leaves too many men feeling like potential predators and too many women feeling as if they’re vain, shallow temptresses.

After having written for the Good Men Project for so long, it’s fun to be affiliated with The Good Women Project. I’m grateful to founder Lauren Dubinsky for helping arrange the piece to appear at Relevant.

I can’t stress strongly enough that this article is written for a Christian audience that sees lust as problematic. I recognize that that’s not a universally held position, and if I were writing for secular readers, I’d frame the problem slightly differently. But whether one believes lust is a sin or not, the reality is that both the church and the wider world put the lion’s share of responsibility for male desire onto women. And that’s indefensibly unfair.

Judy Blume’s Boy Fans

My Genderal Interest column this week looks at the influence on boys of the legendary Young Adult writer Judy Blume. Blume achieved fame as one of the most frequently banned and most consistently celebrated of authors who wrote for teen girls — but young men read her work too. Excerpt:

Judy Blume’s books shattered the old prejudice that teenage girls had no interest in sex. Emailing back and forth with these 31 men, I realized that her writing helped break down another myth as well. Though like Chris and me, these guys underlined the “dirty parts” when they were in junior high, Blume’s works were so much more than stroke material. The real thrill of these books lay in the insight they offered into a world we desperately wanted to understand. The image of adolescent boys as perpetually horny is grounded in considerable truth – but contrary to stereotype, raging teenage libidos don’t necessarily cancel out compassionate curiosity.

Reading Judy Blume didn’t just show me how strong, how hungry, and how ambitious young women could be. My own reaction to her novels, and to the complex female characters within them, taught me that arousal and empathy could coexist within me. Just like girls, I could lust and care – at the same time. As many other men told me this week, I wasn’t the only one to learn this lesson from these enduringly powerful books. Blume satisfied our curiosity and showed us our own compassion. “I can’t imagine my adolescence without her books,” emailed Brendan (41); I wrote back that I couldn’t more fervently agree.