In the Atlantic on dads and daughters; men and abortion

Two recent posts at the Atlantic. Why Do So Many Father-Daughter Movies = Feisty Kid + Bumbling Dad? ran last week. Excerpt:

Single fathers have long been a central presence in fantasy and fairy tales, as any reader of the Grimm Brothers knows. Until the coming of modern medicine, childbirth was among the leading causes of death for women—a fact that resulted in a lot of widowers. But while the fathers in these fairy tales were often stern and over-protective as in The Little Mermaid, or in thrall to the proverbial wicked stepmother as in Cinderella, it’s only very recently that they’ve become benign fools—fools who are mocked by the world but saved by a daughter’s love.

This paradigm shift began in 1991 with Disney’s hugely successful Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. In From the Beast to the Blonde, her masterful history of fairy tales and their adaptations, Marina Warner argues that the depiction of Belle as a feminist heroine necessitated a loss in power for her father, “crazy old Maurice.” Disney “replaced the father with the daughter as the enterprising authority figure in the family,” Warner writes, a radical reversal from the 18th century French text on which the film was based. The runaway triumph of Beauty meant that Disney and its many rival studios have stuck to the same formula of heroic daughter and lovably inept (but always well-intentioned) dad ever since.

And yesterday, on how men can talk about their feelings around abortion:

When we’d gone together to see the doctor for a pre-abortion appointment, he told us the approximate due date: February 7, 1986. At the time I filed it away as the most useless of facts. But when that date rolled around, I was stunned by how heartsick I was. April and I were no longer speaking by that point, and I was off at university. I cried on that due date and for days after, stunned and bewildered by my own delayed reaction to loss. Though my wife and I now have wonderful two kids of our own, not a February goes by that I don’t think about a child who would now be 27.

For those of us who support women’s rights, there’s a paradox when it comes to men’s feelings about abortion, one that my very well-intentioned mother taught me years ago. We want and need men to care about every aspect of reproduction, from being enthusiastic users of contraception to (when invited) devoted coaches in labor and delivery. Yet the danger in publicly focusing on men’s feelings about abortion is obvious.

One danger is political: Anti-abortion advocates are all too willing to politicize any sign of grief or confusion after an abortion as evidence that the procedure is harmful and ought to be banned. Anti-abortion groups often frame the issue as one of father’s rights: the more evidence of men’s post-abortion grief or anger, the more potential fuel for the pro-life cause. Another risk is more personal. As my mum made clear, it can be very difficult for a woman to cope with her partner’s turbulent emotions as she makes a decision about abortion.

Should You Let Your Little Girl Embrace Princesshood?

My latest at Jezebel looks at the “princess wars” and the debate over how much access to Disney characters parents should give their daughters. Excerpt:

While the reasons to be troubled by princess culture are myriad, parents like us who are more relaxed about our daughters’ enchantment with Disney’s royal entourage tend to fall into two distinct camps. One group embraces what Hinds calls “princessing” with uncritical abandon, seeing their daughters’ fascination with all things royal as an opportunity to inculcate a myriad of presumed virtues. Ever since Ariel (the Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Jasmine (Aladdin) appeared in the early 1990s as part of Disney’s expansion of their historic princess franchise, fans have pointed to what they insist are the feminist leanings of this new generation of animated heroines. This faux royal egalitarianism is on full display in the latest offering from the House of Mouse, Sofia the First, a show that Hinds makes a point of refusing to allow his daughters to watch. In an episode that debuted just last week on Disney Jr., the title character bucks restrictive gender roles by becoming the first princess at “Royal Prep” to enter the previously all-boy equestrian steeplechase competition. (As one would expect, Sofia triumphs, defeating a sneering and scheming chauvinist nemesis named, to my daughter’s delight, Prince Hugo.) See, Disney and its defenders claim, little feminists can wear tiaras and defy stereotypes at the same time.

The other camp –- and this includes my wife and me as well as the parents of most of Heloise’s friends -– is wary of the claim that modern princessing offers much in the way of empowerment. Like Hinds, we recognize that “even the most feminist-friendly princess derives her social currency, her political power, and her personal identity as ‘princess’ from the make-believe patriarchy.” At the same time, we’re optimistic, perhaps overly so, about our daughters’ ability to leave the less healthy lessons of princess culture behind as they age. When I was Heloise’s age, I spent most of my non-school hours dressed as a cowboy, wearing a six-shooter on my hip. My mother trusted, rightly, that I’d grow out of a fascination with firearms. She also knew that forbidding me from having war toys would increase rather than diminish their allure. Toy guns are only one small way in which toxic messages about manhood get taught to little boys, and making them more appealing by banning them is a most ineffective vaccine against male violence. The risk in fighting an (almost inevitably unsuccessful) battle against princess culture is the false hope it gives that a de-Disneyed daughter will be a more empowered one.

Read the whole thing.

When Shaming Makes Good Sense

My column today at Role/Reboot looks at the redemptive aspect of shaming, drawing on an incident from last week where a TV anchor in Wisconsin movingly responded to a viewer who called her a bad example for young girls.


Leaving aside the question of whether Krause’s email constituted bullying (I think it did: Meanness often masquerades behind false expressions of concern), I’m struck by the question of whether calling him out, as Jezebel did, amounted to an unhelpful “shaming” of a well-intentioned dude who wrote a private email to a public figure, or whether naming him was a justifiable response to an act of colossal cluelessness at best or calculated cruelty at worst.

Part of the answer lies in recognizing the positive aspects of shame. In our contemporary culture, we tend to think of shame as an invariably unhealthy private emotion. In her popular TedTalk, Brené Brown builds on a distinction between guilt and shame originally made by John Bradshaw. Shame says “I am a bad person” while guilt says “I did a bad thing.” As Brown and Bradshaw would have it, guilt is about distinguishing right and wrong actions; shame is a negative judgment about one’s intrinsic worth. Guilt is a necessary reminder of the harm we can do to other people; shame is a corrosive force that eats away at our self-worth. The less shame we have, the better—or so one popular conception of shame suggests.

Sex educator and occasional Role/Reboot contributor Charlie Glickman takes a more nuanced approach, one that may help explain why the shaming of Kenneth Krause serves an important public function. Glickman writes about what he calls the “adaptive value of shame,” arguing that shame is a powerful emotion of disconnection:

“I expect the folks in my life to demonstrate respect for other people, regardless of their sexual orientation, sexual practices, or gender expression. If you don’t, I will call you on it. If you persist in not changing your actions, I will disengage from you. To the degree that you want to be in connection with me, that can be a motivation to explore your ideas and beliefs and perhaps, change them.”

Disconnection isn’t always about toxic alienation, Charlie argues, but about healthy boundary setting. Making clear that there are consequences for disrespecting others is a helpful tool to protect ourselves and our community. It’s a way of reminding people that their words and actions have consequences.

David Beckham Makes Over Burger King — and Makes Middle-Aged Men Swoon

At Role/Reboot this week, my reflection on a certain new Burger King ad featuring the most famous metrosexual of them all, David Beckham. Excerpt:

Just a few short years ago, Burger King, their sales slumping, ran their infamous “I am Man” ads. The ads celebrated rebellious masculine carnivorousness with such vigor that some thought they were a campy parody; alas, they were all too real. The commercials failed to revive BK’s fortunes, a predictable result of a campaign that insulted men and completely ignored their female customer base.

Times change. Having ditched the machismo and their iconic king, BK is back with a new round of advertising, focusing on their expanded, lighter, less meat-focused menu. One new ad features David Beckham attempting to order a Real Fruit Smoothie. The woman behind the counter is so smitten by Becks she freezes; when her older male manager comes to assist, he too falls for the charm of the globe’s most famous soccer player.

More on what this means for changing sexual attitudes — and changing fast-food menus — here.

As an LA Galaxy fan, however, this is what had me swooning this month..

“Beauty, Disrupted: A Memoir” in stores tomorrow

Beauty, Disrupted: A Memoir hits the shelves tomorrow, October 11. The autobiography of supermodel Carré Otis, it tells the story of her meteoric rise in the 1980s, her explosive relationship with Mickey Rourke, and her struggles to overcome a life-threatening eating disorder and a heroin addiction. I co-authored the HarperCollins release.

Beauty, Disrupted also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the dark side of the modeling industry, where the sexual and emotional abuse of minors was (and still in some cases is) rampant. Carré names names, not out of vindictiveness but out of a commitment to the healing power of truth. Most models who have written their memoirs have taken care to protect key industry figures, even those who were — and are — notoriously abusive. This book goes where that book doesn’t.

And of course, it’s also a memoir of transformation. Carré recovered from her multiple, intersecting addictions. After years of hard spiritual and emotional work, she’s reached a place of remarkable peace; she and her second husband have two wonderful daughters and a stable life in Colorado. How she got to the place where she could get out of herself and give back to the world, how she healed from sexual trauma and violence, and how she became the happy and loving activist she is — that’s also the story of this book.

It’s a fascinating thing to be a collaborator on a memoir. For the year we were writing this book, my task was to be a partner but not a director, making sure that her story and her voice came through. As I learned as a professor assigning autobiographies, it’s easy to tell another person’s tale — but much more challenging, and much more important, to help them tell their own. A collaborator has to know what questions to ask, and how to form the answers into a readable narrative. My own insights were useful in helping form the right queries — but not in constructing the replies. As someone used to my own voice, the challenge was to make myself disappear, letting the power of my partner’s memories form the story. I needed to know when to “step up” as a collaborator — and when to “step back” and let the memoir take shape organically. It was an exciting process.

I’m proud of this book, and look forward to a variety of such collaborations in the future. For anyone interested in celebrity, in an unprecedented degree of insight into the modeling or fashion industries, in the anatomy of a toxic yet strangely tender marriage, or in a classic narrative of recovery and transformation, Beauty, Disrupted won’t disappoint.

Carré will be on the Today Show tomorrow, October 11 — and also that same day will appear for the entire hour with Anderson Cooper on his new program. Check your local listings. For more, visit the Beauty, Disrupted site.

Radio and more photos

I was on WBAI radio yesterday, doing Rise Up Radio’s Father’s Day show. Here’s an audio file of that appearance, and I’m on for about 7 minutes, from 14:00 to 21:00 or so. Talking about fathers, daughters, and the Good Men Project…

On my Facebook, I’ve got two new public albums of photos from SlutWalk LA. Here’s album one, and here’s album two. All these photos are from the amazing Shari B. Ellis, who documented the event from morning set up to evening afterparty.

Here’s my original SlutWalk LA album. Here’s a photo of me with some of the student volunteers from Pasadena City College (click to enlarge):

And here’s a link to the larger version of the photo I had up before from the front of the march.

Gripping the sword, embracing the lover: SNL spoofs the masculine double bind and the myth of male inflexibility

Chloe sends me a link to this Saturday Night Live skit that ran last weekend. With Helen Mirren as special guest star, the cast cleverly spoofs our cultural confusion about masculinity. Two comedians take on the roles of Hugh Jackman and Gerard Butler — actors who have shown a penchant to oscillate between playing romantic, sensitive leading men and hyper-macho heroes. They pound their chests and sing Broadway numbers before welcoming Mirren, who plays Jule Andrews — and promptly becomes genuinely homicidal.

I don’t watch Saturday Night Live often, but this was one of the funnier and more pointed skits I’ve seen in a long time.

The SNL short points at two key problems in our contemporary representations of masculinity. Popular culture is deeply ambivalent about men who break free of traditional gender roles: romantic comedies celebrate men who can be sensitive and insightful, witty and artistic while action films feature cartoonish exaggerations of swaggering manliness. In the case of actors like Jackman and Butler, the two genres in which they are most famous for working grow ever further apart: the action movies feature greater savagery (and less depth) than ever; the romantic comedies show us heterosexual male protagonists who are increasingly comfortable with their “feminine” side. The SNL skit riffs on the absurdity of that ever-widening gap, lampooning our own confusion about what it is that we expect men to be.

At the same time, the skit plays on a darker myth, the one that says that men can’t emotionally multi-task. Men can either be violent, protective, macho brutes — or they can be intuitive, kind, and charming. But to expect them to integrate aspects of both traditional masculinity and traditional femininity is a massive overask, or so the myth of male inflexibility has us believe. Of course, in real life, not many people expect a man to be both a Spartan general and a tender aficionado of musical theater. All that most of us would like to see is men who are capable of both compassion and decisiveness. What we’re missing are images of men whose emotional dexterity and flexibility is as great as women’s. Those men do exist, of course. We just see them so rarely.

Chloe asked me for my thoughts on the skit at almost exactly the same moment that I got an email from a student of mine who wanted to share a line from a Japanese anime comic (or film, I’m not sure; one of my readers can fill me in.). One character says to another:

“Unless I grip the sword, I can not protect you. While gripping the sword I can not embrace you.” Isn’t that another perfect encapsulation of the double bind of masculinity, my student wondered. Continue reading

Audio archive of my Michelle Phillips interview

The audio file of my appearance on Hay House Radio is up, and will be free for the next week. My chat with Michelle begins around 31:00 in and continues for nearly twenty minutes. Nice to do radio where I’m not being cut off and can make extended remarks. Michelle was a great host. We talk about boys, girls, perfectionism, eating disorders, and relationships.

This link will expire on Sunday, March 13. Listen here.