Women’s Orgasms, Men’s Sense of Purpose: on OneTaste

My Genderal Interest column at Jezebel today looks at OneTaste (the so-called “orgasm cult”) and its growing focus on helping men find purpose through giving women pleasure. Excerpt:

But the real payoff of Orgasmic Meditation for a man goes beyond his delight in watching a woman orgasm beneath his fingertip. What OM offers, Daedone claims, is an opportunity for guys to break the familiar, depressing cycle of oscillating “between bravado and helplessness.” OM gives men a sense of mastery, not just of women’s bodies, but of themselves. If it’s true that there’s nothing straight men want to know more than to how to please a woman, then it follows that if they figure out how to do that well and consistently, they’ll receive a boost of confidence that will bleed over into every other aspect of their lives.

Ken Blackman, a 48 year-old former Apple software engineer who is now One Taste’s “senior stroker,” told me that One Taste had transformed his life. He came to the OM practice as a self-described “short nerd” who was desperate to learn tips for becoming great in bed. What he found instead was a whole new way of relating to women and to himself. According to Blackman, becoming a great stroker (Daedone praises him as among the very best she’s taught) has little to do with technique and more to do with cultivating “a talent for play.” “Women want men who have a demonstrated capacity for handling the truth,” he says; “OM teaches guys how not to be intimidated by the full intensity of women’s hunger.”

Read the whole thing.

A clarification on male entitlement

The column I wrote for Role/Reboot about white male privilege and the Aurora shootings has gone viral; picked up by Jezebel as well, it’s become the most viewed article I’ve written this year. I’m grateful.

It’s axiomatic in blogging that the pieces we think will do well don’t, and the ones we toss off quickly end up becoming our biggest hits. That’s certainly true in this case, and if I had known it would do as well as it did — and I’d had more time — I’d have added some other points.

I got a nice note this morning from my friend Michael Kaufman (part of that great and good assembly of feminist Michaels) who had this comment:

…the frustration of men’s sense of entitlement isn’t just an individual problem because the sense of entitlement isn’t simply individual. As you know and have written about, it’s a socially-constructed sense of entitlement that is enshrined in religion, the law, and traditions, including child-rearing practices. When the entitlement is challenged by social movements (feminism, civil rights, etc.) or by changing social realities (the large-scale entry of women in the professions and into a dominant place in universities, the dissolution of middle class privilege due to globalization and the destruction of the middle class) this is certainly experienced individually but the source of the experience is not about psychology but society, social power, and social change. However, individual psychology indeed shapes how an individual man will experience it, including, at times, in deeply pathological ways.

That’s an important clarifier.

Mass Murder and White Male Privilege

Today’s column at Role/Reboot responds to one of the many questions being asked in the aftermath of last Friday morning’s deadly shootings in Colorado: Why Are Most Mass Murderers Privileged White Men? Excerpt:

We don’t yet know what drove James Holmes to do the terrible things he did. We only partly understand what drove the likes of Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Charles Whitman, and the many other white men who have committed similar massacres. While each killer had a unique pathology that helped drive him to do the unthinkable, the fact that these white male mass murderers felt so confident choosing public spaces to commit their crimes reflects a powerful truth about the culture in which they were raised. Put simply, they did what they did because of an individual sickness—but they did it where they did it in part because of white privilege.

It’s not that white men are more violent. Rates of domestic violence, including homicide, are roughly the same across all ethnic groups. Statistically, murderers are more likely to kill family members and intimate partners than strangers. But while men from all backgrounds kill their spouses, affluent white men are disproportionately represented in the ranks of our most infamous mass murderers. In other words, the less privileged you are, the less likely you are to take your violence outside of your family and your community.

White men from prosperous families grow up with the expectation that our voices will be heard. We expect politicians and professors to listen to us and respond to our concerns. We expect public solutions to our problems. And when we’re hurting, the discrepancy between what we’ve been led to believe is our birthright and what we feel we’re receiving in terms of attention can be bewildering and infuriating. Every killer makes his pain another’s problem. But only those who’ve marinated in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world’s problem with which to deal. This is why, while men of all races and classes murder their intimate partners, it is privileged young white dudes who are by far the likeliest to shoot up schools and movie theaters.

Dudes Getting it Together: Men, Housework, and “Having it All”

For a second straight week, my Role/Reboot column looks at the much-discussed “having it all” phenomenon, this time taking on men’s failure to pull their own weight on the domestic front. Excerpt:

In recent years, there’s been a veritable explosion of “daddy blogging” by mostly white and middle-class men, some of whom are “stay-at-home” fathers while others are sole or collaborating breadwinners. Much of that writing has been excellent. But Jill and Jessica aren’t talking about the need for more men to share openly about their skills at nurturing children and cleaning house. Those are important topics to be sure; we need to see more examples of the different ways in which men can step into traditionally female domestic roles. But we also need husbands and fathers in public life to share in detail, both about their own struggle to create balance—and what it is that they’re doing to help the mothers of their children get an equal shot at “having it all.”

For many men, the standard to which they compare their own domestic output is the one set by their fathers. Like most guys of his generation, my daddy didn’t change diapers. I do, like so many of mine. But “helping more than dad did”—with all due respect to papa—sets the bar too low. The question isn’t “how does what I’m doing compare to what my own father did?” The question is, “am I pulling my weight compared to what my partner’s doing?”

Many men complain that asking for these details is just so much unnecessary score-keeping. The fact that we haven’t kept score has been what’s allowed this disheartening disparity to persist so stubbornly. Talking honestly about who does what and how long it takes isn’t about determining winners and losers—it’s about accountability.

There’s no question that some men are pulling their own weight; the small cohort of daddy bloggers not least among them. The “daddy shift” toward a more responsible and present fathering paradigm is real. But as the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes clear there are too few of us. As Lindsay Beyerstein wrote at In These Times, “if most men aren’t willing to do their fair share of childcare, only a handful of ambitious women will manage to find one of these rare mates. Until cultural mores change on a broad scale, there will never be enough enlightened men to go around.”

Why Men Need Feminism: Returning (briefly) to the Good Men Project

For the first time since December, I’m back at the Good Men Project to take part in a roundtable discussion about men and feminism. We’re all responding to this piece by the site’s founder, Tom Matlack: Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue. My response: Men’s Goodness Hinges on Hearing Women’s Voices. Excerpt:

When I was first going to AA meetings in Los Angeles, I was asked to read A New Pair of Glasses, a powerful and personal commentary on the Twelve Steps by a legend in Southern California sobriety circles. The book was invaluable, and the title is instructive. Just as the tools of the program gave me a new outlook on my identity and behavior, feminism give me a radically different perspective on my masculinity. Only when I put on the “feminist glasses” could I see the ways in which my acculturation as a man had limited my potential.

Tom concludes his essay with his vision for the future of the Good Men Project. He wants it to be a space where “men can have their own stories of struggle for goodness that can be shared man-to-man in a way that changes the teller and the listener alike quite apart from what a woman or a feminist might say about that story.” It’s the updated equivalent of nailing a “No Gurlz Allowed” sign to the clubhouse door, with the grudging caveat that women are welcome as long as they affirm whatever “stories of struggle” that the male members happen to spin.

There’s an old saying in Twelve Step programs: “If you want what you’ve never had, you’ll have to do what you’ve never done.” Men have spent a long time privileging the voices of other men; there’s nothing novel about creating a space in which women’s perspectives are seen as an unwelcome distraction. If we want to be happier, if we want to be better, if we want to be different, then “us guys” need to do what we’ve never done well collectively: listen to women and include feminist perspectives in our most intimate and important conversations.

“I Can Only Be Naked When I’m Naked:” Sex, Friendship, and Male Vulnerability

From 2009.

I’ve been thinking lately about some friends of mine, getting a divorce after more than a decade of marriage. Children are involved, but the two spouses are as amicable as one could hope to expect. What is clear, however, is that the husband and the wife each have very different support networks — or more accurately, that the wife has a fairly strong support network of family and friends, and the husband has virtually no one. And looking at the two of them is a reminder of one of the particularly unfortunate ways in which we structure white American middle-class masculinity; too often, not only is a wife a man’s best friend, she is his only friend.

We live, after all, in a culture which shames displays of male vulnerability. Though some sociologists detect signs of a shift among younger men, millions of boys in this country still grow up with the “guy code” and its rules about toughness, competitiveness, and a steadfast refusal to cry. Even those young men who do everything they can to avoid playing by the “guy rules” — the sensitive, bookish lads, let’s say — find it difficult to find other men with whom they can be open, vulnerable, and safe.

A great many young women have had this experience: they’ve been dating a fellow for a while, things have started to get serious. A fight happens, or perhaps the dude has a setback of some sort or another. One night, he breaks down in front of her, surprising them both with his sudden vulnerability. He may say something like “This is the first time I’ve cried in years” or “I’ve never cried like this in front of someone before, not since I was a kid.” Now, it’s possible that he’s just being manipulative, seeing how far this kind of emotional flattery will take him. But dollars to doughnuts, there’s a good chance that he’s being honest — it’s only in romantically and sexually intimate relationships that many men find the chance to be vulnerable.

One rather flippant but generally sound piece of advice I gave (and still do give) in youth group about sex: “Don’t get naked until you’re ready to get naked”, meaning that in relationships, it’s often wise to have some degree of congruence between emotional and sexual intimacy. Generally speaking, emotional intimacy is a good precondition for sex; the danger lies in the attempt to reverse cause and effect, and using sex as a way of generating enduring intimacy. But of course, for many men, sexual intimacy is a kind of trailhead into some deeper and more concealed parts of themselves. This doesn’t mean that heterosexual men can only trust those women with whom they are sleeping, but it does mean that sex gives a kind of permission for a man to be vulnerable. (If I had a dollar for every woman who has ever asked me if it was “normal” for men to cry after sex, I’d have enough to take my family out for a nice vegan dinner. Many women are floored by these sudden post-coital displays of strong emotion; though not universal, it’s more common than many think.) Continue reading

Men May Have Body Image Problems, But Do Women Still Have it Worse?

My column at Jezebel this week looks at the remarkable recent uptick in media attention to guys with eating disorders: Can Plus-Size Male Models and Nude Photo Shoots Help Men’s Body Image? Excerpt:

Perhaps 1 in 4 of the 1.6 million Britons with an eating disorder are male, writes Joseph Stashko in the New Statesman. (The National Eating Disorders Association suggests that 1 in 10 anorexia or bulimia sufferers in the US are men, a discrepancy that may well be down to male under-reporting.) Stashko, who vividly describes his own battle with anorexia, laments that “any sufferer looking for help online will find they come across information almost exclusively tailored towards women…the fact that so little is written about male experiences of eating disorders compounds the issue and makes you feel even more like a weirdo who’s failed at being a man.”

A significant part of the problem Stashko describes isn’t just the absence of resources directed at men battling anorexia or bulimia. It’s that our images of male beauty and desirability are in some ways even more limited and unattainable than those offered to women. While we assume men are allowed greater leeway to be physically imperfect, how often do we see shirtless male models that are anything but perfectly ripped? As the fashion industry moves tentatively towards promoting a wider (and perhaps healthier) size continuum for female models, a soft body is still anathema for men in fashion. The tyranny of the six-pack is absolute.

A kerfuffle emerged in the Jezebel comments section (and on Jezebel’s Facebook page) about whether the male body image crisis is a real thing or a media fabrication designed to distract attention from women’s issues. Most folks seem to recognize that the issue is real; check out this terrific article in the Atlantic by Rebecca Wagner, or the remarkable story about singer D’Angelo’s struggles in GQ. Sexualization of boys is also a growing problem, as Amy Jussel and Spark Summit’s Bailey Shoemaker Richards make clear in this powerful essay.

As a great many commenters have said, suffering is not a zero-sum game. Acknowledging that men and boys also battle body shame and eating disorders needn’t mean ignoring the tremendous pain of women and girls. At the same time, I’m not claiming a false equivalence. When it comes to eating disorders, men make up between 10-25% of those afflicted; even allowing for masculine “tough guy” underreporting, virtually everyone agrees that more women than men struggle with these diseases. We can start to strategize to reach the men and boys who are suffering without ignoring the reality that the body image crisis is still heavily gendered.

A personal note: though I’d struggled with body shame since the time I first hit puberty, I didn’t start seriously dieting or compulsively exercising until I was 25. In the summer of 1992, my first wife and I separated. Depressed and lonely, I lost my appetite. I weighed about 180 pounds on my 6’1″ frame before the split; within three months I’d lost 35 pounds. As I dropped more and more weight, I found myself getting hooked on the thrill of the losing — and the high that came from my imagined self-control in limiting myself to under 1000 calories a day. I don’t know if I met the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, but I certainly was engaged in borderline anorectic behavior.

As I got skinnier and skinnier (below 165 pounds, my facial features tend to become rather skeletal), more and more family and friends began to express concern. Some of my fellow UCLA graduate students spread the rumor that I had AIDS; several people sat me down for mini-interventions. No one — no one — told me I looked good. Everyone said “you’re much too thin,” or “please gain weight!” As a man, my eating disorder was discouraged and prompted alarm.

My female friends who struggled with similar disorders got very different reactions. As they lost weight to the point of emaciation, they got as many compliments as expressions of concern. In many instances, the praise and the encouragement continued even as these women damaged their health, a point made with brutal clarity in Carré Otis’ memoir, Beauty, Disrupted.

My self-loathing was terrible in 1992; my dieting extreme. There’s no point in trying to discern whether I had it “worse” or “easier” than my female peers who were also battling body dysmorphia. Yet there’s no doubt that in terms of public reaction, I had it much easier — evidence of my disease brought an avalanche of concern and worry, while the same evidence in my female friends brought toxic encouragement. My recovery was exponentially easier as a result of that male privilege.

Of course, that was 1992. The standards for both male and female beauty have gotten dramatically more extreme in the past 20 years. The ideal body is more unattainable than ever, and the number of male sufferers has risen demonstrably. But I still suspect that when it comes to social reinforcement/discouragement for eating disorders, women have it worse. Acknowledging that gendered reality, however, doesn’t make men’s pain any less authentic or any less deserving of our concern.

The Special Worry of Raising a Son

At Role/Reboot this week, my column is a candid look at my fears about raising a son: Why I’m More Afraid to Raise a Son than a Daughter. Excerpt:

Here’s a truth: I’m more scared to raise a son than a daughter. Before Heloise was born, I’d had a gut feeling my first child would be a girl. I didn’t bribe the ultrasound technician to give me the scoop when my wife was out of the room; I just had an instinct so strong about her sex that when she was born it seemed the fulfillment of something entirely preordained. I wasn’t the only one who “expected” that I’d have a daughter first. Much of my best-known writing revolves around women, body image, sexuality, and perfectionism; “it makes sense that you’d have a girl” was a sentiment I heard from many friends and readers in their congratulatory notes. It certainly made sense to me.

One men’s rights activist with whom I’d long sparred online commented that he was relieved that Heloise hadn’t turned out to be a boy. “If you ever had a son, you’d fuck him up,” the MRA wrote; “you’d poison him into believing that his only purpose in life is to serve women.” I laughed that off, but noted quietly to myself that for different reasons, I shared the MRA’s relief. I was enchanted by my daughter and thrilled to have her for her own sake, of that I had no doubt. But I also recognized, to my own embarrassment, that I felt as if I’d been let off the hook…

In the fortnight since my precious David was born, it’s struck me how gendered my fears for my children are. I worry about both children getting sick, or being in pain, or being hungry, or cold. I worry about both of them being victimized by predators. I know enough to worry about both of them growing up around toxic messages of physical perfection (a particular problem where we live in West Los Angeles). But I realize that I’m not anxious about whether Heloise will grow up to be violent or predatory herself. I know girls can bully—but despite the claims of MRAs, the evidence is that girls are much less likely to rape, to hit, to abuse.

The Real Reason Some Boys Won’t Play With Girls

At Role/Reboot today, I look at the latest in a string of incidents in USA high school sports where boys have refused to compete against girls. Excerpt:

As women integrate themselves into what were once all-male spaces (like universities, corporate boardrooms, and Congress), even the most ardent traditionalists have been forced to accept women’s intellectual equality with men.

But that grudging acquiescence to egalitarianism in most public spaces means an even fiercer determination to protect the few remaining all-male bastions, be they Marine barracks or baseball diamonds.

As long as there are still a few remaining spaces in which women are not allowed, defenders of traditional gender roles can still resist the modern claim that men and women are far more alike than they are different. They may have to cope with alarming innovations like sexually assertive girlfriends or ambitious female colleagues, but in sports (whether as players or spectators) men who are uncomfortable with equality hope to find a space where biology is still destiny. When girls like Cassy Herkelman or Paige Sulzbach prove themselves capable of playing alongside boys, they demonstrate that the physical distinctions between the sexes are not as great as we imagined. For those already uncomfortable with women’s growing economic, sexual, and political power, this concrete evidence of their commensurate athletic ability is shattering. Forfeiting becomes the only way to sustain the illusion that men and women are fundamentally different; regardless of the outcome, to play against girls would demonstrate tacit acceptance of women’s equality.

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.