When White Men Lose their Monopoly on Power… It’s Good for White Men, Too

A second column went up at Jez this week: Why the End of White Men is Actually Good for White Men. Excerpts:

The day after the election, I tweeted that I was glad that “middle-aged, middle-class white men like me no longer have sole control of the levers of power.” A friend in my same demographic shot back grimly that “after all, we are the cause of all that is wrong and soul-less in the world, or so the narrative goes.” We’ve all heard a variation on that point before, as white dudes complain that they’re unfairly held accountable for historic and contemporary injustices. Whining about “reverse racism” or about being “blamed” for the exclusionary practices of those who shared (and share) our color, our class, and our sex doesn’t change the reality that we’re the ones who’ve enjoyed unearned advantages for eons.

So instead of mourning, it’s time for middle-class white dudes to look on the bright side. Not only do we get a more inclusive, fairer nation, we also get these priceless benefits that come along with the loss of our once vaunted power…

3. Women –- and everyone else –- will be more likely to tell us the truth. The more privilege you have (or are perceived to have) the riskier it is for someone who doesn’t share that privilege to be honest with you. Anglican feminist theologian Janet Morley suggests that when the privileged use power to dominate, they force the less privileged to use their “weakness to manipulate.” Most people dislike being manipulated — and yet a system in which women and non-whites lack equal access to power is one in which honesty often comes with dangerously high risks. We soothe people whom we fear, and we flatter when we’ve got few other options to get what we need. The more power white men hold in public and private, the less likely that they can fully trust the smiles and the nods and the “yesses” of those who don’t share their privilege. Put simply, when we lose our privilege, we’ll start to be able to trust what we hear.

Read the whole thing.

Talking Petraeus at Jezebel and on Current TV

In response to the David Petraeus sex scandal, I wrote a piece at Jezebel: ‘I Know You Better Than You Know Yourself:’ Why Men Cheat With Their Biographers.


It’s hard not to suspect that that same lack of self-awareness drove General Petraeus. Men whose lives are defined by public action and attentiveness to image are vulnerable to “imposter syndrome.” They may be keenly aware of the disconnect between how they are perceived and the messy reality of who it is that they “really ” are. Married to women who are under no illusions as to their shortcomings, plenty of middle-aged men make the mistake of turning to the women who “understand.” An affair with a journalist or documentarian offers a double bonus: not only the chance to be validated as privately worthy by a star-struck lover, but the promise of being presented to the public in the most favorable possible light by a woman whom you like to imagine knows you better than you know yourself.

Sex scandals are rooted in male narcissism, as Irin Carmon wrote for Jezebel when the Edwards scandal broke. Rielle Hunter famously first got John Edwards’ attention with a blunt “You’re hot!” But we make a mistake when we assume that male narcissism is only about being validated for being sexually attractive. It’s also about the longing to be seen as worthy by a woman who is presumably in a position to know the truth about his goodness. Men who froze their own capacity for introspection when they were young are particularly likely to seek out the affair with the woman who promises to peek underneath the uniform and pronounce that what she sees is hot, fascinating, and noble. This is a narcissism driven as much by a specifically male lack of self-awareness as it is by preening, anxious vanity.

Last night, I appeared on Current TV’s The War Room with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to talk about this issue. The five-minute clip is here.

On politics and friendship, men and feminism: two new columns

Two new pieces up today.

At Role-Reboot, I look at the question of when it’s okay to end a friendship over political disagreements. Excerpt:

It’s almost axiomatic that the lower one’s personal investment in the outcome, the easier it is to banter civilly with one’s political opponents. Growing up, my mother’s family was as ideologically diverse as possible—from card-carrying Communists to evangelical Christian conservatives. The one thing we shared, besides the ties of blood and marriage, was class privilege. As a child, I witnessed heated debates over Vietnam and tax policy at family parties; as a teen, I waded into intense arguments over funding the Contras and divesting from South Africa. Though the discussion was often impassioned, there were rules to how far we could go. “If you can’t speak kindly to each other after the argument is over,” my grandmother said, “you aren’t allowed to argue.” As she reminded us, family unity should always trump politics. My mother’s mother made it abundantly clear that it was very bad manners to allow a relative’s views on policy to impact one’s feelings for them.

My grandmother lived out what she preached. She and my grandfather had a mixed marriage on the atypical side of the gender gap. She was a Republican (from the moderate wing, to be sure); my grandfather was a progressive Democrat. They cancelled out each other’s vote in every presidential election from 1932 to 1968, always with good cheer. According to family lore, the closest they came to cross words came in 1948, when my grandfather’s delight at Truman’s surprise comeback defeat of Dewey briefly crossed the line from happiness to outright gloating. They each had their triumphs and their losses, and viewed their opposite political loyalties as being akin to rooting for rival baseball teams. Nothing, they believed—and taught their descendants to believe—was so serious about politics that it should serve to poison a relationship with a loved one. Growing up in a family that saw politics as a fascinating but ultimately inconsequential sport, I was sheltered from the obvious reality that the outcome of elections has life-changing implications for millions.

My second piece appears somewhere new: Australia’s Daily Life. It’s a personal piece about men and feminism; the editors chose the title Confessions of a Formerly Sexist Man. Excerpt:

I call myself a feminist because I see organised feminism as one of the great vehicles for both social justice and personal transformation. I am a feminist because I want to see a world in which both men and women are free to become complete people. Feminism helped me understand that testosterone and a Y chromosome didn’t destine me to be unreliable, predatory, and emotionally inarticulate – but that buying into sexist myths did.

Feminism is political. It is also much more than that: it’s about making whole people – just, kind, and complete. Based on my past, I know I am a most imperfect spokesperson for a woman-centered movement. But as much because of that past as in spite of it, I feel compelled to make the case that feminism, more than any other ideology, gives all of us the tools to match our language and our lives.

Why Condom Laws in Porn are a Bad Idea

My latest at Jezebel looks at a local issue with national implications: Los Angeles County Measure B, an initiative on the November 6 ballot that will mandate the use of condoms in porn. Even here in the global capital of mainstream adult film production, the measure is widely misunderstood.

For the piece, I interviewed sexual health experts like Charlie Glickman and Chauntelle Tibbals; I also spoke with porn legends James Deen (a Pasadena City College alumnus) and Nina Hartley. Steven Hirsch, the founder of Vivid Video (one of the largest porn production companies in the world) also shared his thoughts.


As it turns out, it’s not that simple. For starters, as Deen and sexual health experts familiar with the industry agree, what makes for safer sex in private doesn’t translate well to an adult film set. In an email interview, porn legend Nina Hartley explained that in her business, “condom burn is a real issue. The friction from the latex, even with lubrication, is painful and breaches the integrity of my mucosal membranes, putting me at greater risk for disease transmission.” Pointing out that the average length of sexual intercourse in “civilian life” is only a few minutes, Hartley noted, while the shortest porn scenes require an absolute minimum of “half an hour of hard thrusting by a well-endowed young man. It’s hard enough to deal with w/o condoms. Add latex to the mix and I’m down to being able to work with a man once a week at best, to say nothing of the damage it would do to my private life and intimacy with my husband.” Veteran sex educator Charlie Glickman agrees, pointing out that “what you do in your home kitchen never has the same protocols as you have in a catering business.” Adding to Hartley’s concerns about the damage rubbers can do to women’s mucosal membranes, Glickman notes that condoms themselves degrade rapidly over the course of scenes that can last upwards of two hours to film, making them less effective as barriers to infection.

What does work, according to Hartley, Deen, and other performers, is testing. Porn actors are tested for HIV and other STIs at least once every 28 days (Deen notes he’s tested twice as often) at a variety of private testing sites overseen by Adult Production Health and Safety Services, a service administered by the industry’s trade group, the Free Speech Coalition. The track record of these testing protocols has been extraordinary, with even critics of the industry willing to admit that porn performers test positive for STIs at a rate well below that of the sexually active “civilians” who are their fellow Angelenos. (For a detailed description of how testing works –- and how negative test results are verified by onset inspections -– see this post from the porn performer Stoya.) Vivid Video CEO Steven Hirsch told me that the porn industry has produced “more than 300,000” hardcore sex scenes since 2004, with only two cases of HIV infection – both in performers who contracted the virus from untested civilian partners. That remarkable safety record is attributable to testing and what Deen describes as a “close-knit family atmosphere… where mutual trust is sacred” in the business.

My interviews with Glickman, Hirsch, and Deen were all on the phone. Nina Hartley, however, answered a number of questions in email form. Below the fold, I’m posting our entire Q&A. Continue reading

Taking Rape for the Team

My Role/Reboot piece this week revisits an old and troubling question: Why Some Activist Groups Tolerate Rapists .


Obviously, sexual abuse is not just a phenomenon found on the left. It’s rampant in conservative churches, as we well know. But most secular progressives aren’t terribly surprised when organizations dedicated to upholding traditional sexist values condone or cover up the worst of sexist behavior. As a person of faith of course, I am appalled when religious texts I regard as sacred are distorted and deliberately misinterpreted to excuse or enable rape. And as a liberal, I am equally infuriated when women in supposedly progressive organizations are told that a climate of sexual harassment and abuse must be endured for the sake of some “greater good.”

Particularly among radicals, there remains an ugly tendency to see feminism as being a bourgeois white woman’s phenomenon. The insistence that women’s liberation is anti-revolutionary, or insignificant, or just so much liberal navel-gazing, allows rape culture to thrive in far too many radical political and ethnic organizations. And brave young women like Dinah get raped and tossed aside.

It is true that in 2012, women’s issues seem to have moved to the forefront of the national dialogue. At its convention in Charlotte, the Democratic Party did an excellent job of centering the fight for reproductive justice and equal pay. At the same time, even on the left, the relentless pressure to de-prioritize sexual liberation in favor of some other ideal remains. While feminism is not the only cause worth fighting for, the feminist principles of women’s equality, autonomy, and body integrity must be incorporated into every political and social movement.

“Thank You” in response to “I Love You?” Obama passes the Miss Manners kindness test

As someone who has never believed that private revelations tarnish public dignity, I’ve enjoyed reading the Vanity Fair excerpts from David Maraniss’ new biography of the young Barack Obama. Thanks to Maraniss, we’ve learned much more this week about the future president’s first serious relationship with a slightly older woman, Genevieve Cook.

One thing for which Obama is catching some heat is this reported exchange: When she (Cook) told him that she loved him, (Obama’s) response was not “I love you, too” but “thank you” — as though he appreciated that someone loved him.

I laughed in bemused recognition when I read that, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve had the chance to be on both sides of that awkward moment when one person confesses a devotion that isn’t fully reciprocated. I’ve been in Genevieve’s shoes, desperately in love with someone who liked me but did not feel deep romantic passion in turn. And I’ve been on the receiving end as Barack was, replying “thank you” to a woman because I knew that to lie and say “I love you, too” would be infinitely more cruel in the long run.

Miss Manners was once asked the question of how best to respond to an unreciprocated declaration of love? Her reply:

…making the other person feel good is not, as Miss Manners keeps telling you, always the object of etiquette. If you do not love the person making the original statement, replying kindly could lead to all sorts of dreadful complications, not the least of which is further and even more unfortunate questions, such as “But do you really love me?” or “More than you’ve ever loved anyone before?” or “How can I believe you?”

One needs therefore to make the lack of reciprocation clear while showing gratitude for the other person’s good taste…”Thank you” is not bad, although Miss Manners prefers “You do me great honor.”

Bold emphasis mine.

As far as I can see, the young Barack passed the crucial honesty test that many older folks fail miserably. It’s not easy; my experience jives with that of Auden, who made it clear in one of his most famous poems that it’s always harder to be the one who cares less:

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

When you’re not lucky enough to be the more loving one, the best you can do is answer as Miss Manners suggests and as our president did.

The Peter Pan Presidency

This week’s column at Role/Reboot looks at Ann Romney’s recent ad about her husband, the presumptive GOP nominee, and her remark that at times he was more like another son than a husband. Excerpt:

That the campaign sees boyish naughtiness and mischievousness as selling points for the GOP nominee says as much about our contemporary culture as it does about the Romneys. What it says is that we live in a culture that celebrates everlasting boyhood as never before. In an earlier era, there was a clear demarcation line between male child and male adult. While women remained perpetual “legal children,” under control of their fathers and husbands, boys eventually crossed a threshold into adulthood from which there was no turning back. (Some put that threshold later than others; the Athenians famously believed that only men over 30 could be counted as true grown-ups.) St. Paul famously wrote, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” The Romneys apparently don’t agree with that definition.

Thinking of the fulsome adultness of President Obama (and the allusions to puerility on the part of his two predecessors), one wonders too if being a Peter Pan president is something only rich white guys can afford.

Santorum’s Soft Patriarchal Appeal

At Role/Reboot today, I visit a popular question: why do so many conservative women embrace Rick Santorum? Excerpt:

In the Times piece, many of the women most passionate about Santorum cited his marriage and his seven children as their primary reasons for supporting the candidate. Santorum, as they seem to see it, has lived a life of running toward family responsibilities rather than away from them. To that mindset, Rick and Karen’s decision to fight to save their daughter Bella, born with Trisomy-18, isn’t just evidence that the couple are pro-life. It’s proof that Santorum is a man who doesn’t shy away from the kind of burdens that seem to overwhelm other men.

Like Don Draper of Mad Men, Rick Santorum’s image suggests a bygone era. Except that Rick is real, and what he reminds us of has less to do with debonair swagger and more to do with a kind of simple moral tenacity (some would say fanaticism) that’s worlds away from Romney’s waffling, Gingrich’s cerebral musings, or Obama’s tireless cool. For his fans of both sexes, there’s a sense that they support Rick partly because they wish so desperately that more men were like him. The women in the Times article seem almost wistful, perhaps stirred by the longing for husbands as passionate about their own families as Santorum is about his.

At the same time, Santorum’s emotional vulnerability is thoroughly modern. He’ll never be as glib as Gingrich, as rich as Romney, or as elegant as Obama—and he knows it. That doesn’t matter, he seems to be saying; I can out-feel them all. He doesn’t just center his family in his speeches, he seems to center his feelings about them.

The Masculinity Crisis and the Gender Gap: Why White Men Vote Republican

My latest at Role/Reboot revisits a ninety year-old story: The Roots of the Modern Gender Gap.


Conservative Republican appeals to men are filled with nostalgia for an era when women could not afford to be as choosy as they seem to be today. The historian-turned-gadfly-candidate Newt Gingrich rarely misses an opportunity to point out that, since the 1960s, liberals have carefully substituted the state for the husband in the lives of American women. Strong public institutions (as well as contraception and access to abortion) reduced women’s dependency on men. As women gained greater autonomy, they no longer felt as compelled to settle for unhappy or abusive marriages. In the traditionalist imagination, this liberation led to abortion, divorce, and promiscuity.

The end result of women’s emancipation has been, as conservatives like Charles Murray and Mary Eberstadt have argued, the psychological dislocation of American men. Raised to be “good providers,” young men cannot possibly compete with a “Leviathan” state that provides far more to women and children. The much-exaggerated contemporary masculinity crisis is the inevitable consequence of robbing men of their natural and primary source of self-esteem, the ability to provide for their families.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that more men than women vote Republican in this country for this very reason. Whether they are able to articulate it or not, I suspect a great many men sense that the weaker the state, the more dependent women become upon them. The fewer publicly-provided alternatives to getting married exist, the more likely women are to put up with unhappy marriages, and the less likely they are to have any heft with which to demand that men make necessary changes. The stronger the social safety net, the more options women have for raising children without men; those women who do choose to raise children with men will do so by choice rather than necessity. And when you have a choice, you can begin to demand a degree of mutuality and accountability from a partner that you could not otherwise demand. No wonder so many angry men vote Republican, and sing the praises of the “free enterprise” system. No wonder so many more women vote Democratic, or failing that, for the least reactionary Republican available.

Read the whole thing.