Thursday, May 26, 2016

New York Magazine’s War on Men

New York Magazine’s digital fashion blog The Cut announced last week that it is addressing “the gender wars” in a new blog, as well as a column, intended to provide its largely female readership with a greater understanding of men and masculinity. This seemed like an intriguing and positive step toward easing tensions in the war between the sexes; but unfortunately, if the content thus far is any indication, don’t expect a truce to be forthcoming.
The name choices are already a bad sign: the blog is called “Beta Male” and the column is titled “Mansplaining,” both of which are derogatory terms that will simply turn off male readers and open-minded women. It’s as if the editors are signaling from the get-go that they’re not so much sincerely interested in understanding manhood as they are in winking at the man-haters among their readers.
Things don’t get any better from there. Mansplaining, the announcement declares, is “a weeklong series in which men will (finally) explain themselves to women, in any way they want.” That could have resulted in some interesting columns, but instead the editors solicited men’s thoughts on such frivolous topics as guitar solos and blow jobs. Not that men aren’t passionate about those topics, but imagine how sexist and demeaning it would seem if a men’s mag invited women to explain themselves by getting their thoughts on Grey’s Anatomy and the G spot.
As for Beta Male, it promised to “talk about manly kinds of things, only maybe not in the usual manly way.” In other words, don’t expect the blog to feature the traditional perspective of men’s men like, say, Discovery Channel host and skilled trades advocate Mike Rowe, whose easygoing but unapologetic masculinity would probably send The Cut staff scrambling for safe spaces. Instead, the blog so far largely features writers and topics that confirm The Cut’s low opinion of men.
“Beta Male’s premise,” The Cut womansplains, “is that the chiseled altar of virility is looking a little dated; overwrought; kitschy.” I can promise you that this is true only to privileged, young, Third Wave feminist, liberal arts graduates who gravitate toward jobs like fashion editors, because in the real world beyond New York, chiseled virility is a quality still very much valued by women. But the editors at The Cut want you to believe that “the newest iteration of manhood is still very much in beta.”
The Cut’s Stella Bugbee and Beta Male’s Aaron Gell kicked off the series with some light banter which revealed both editors to be uncomfortable with and uninspired by the blog’s concept, and clueless as to how to move it forward. “We’re ready to call a time out” in the gender wars, they wrote, “to do what, we’re not sure.” Bugbee demonstrated just where she stands on the topic (“I want men to be more like women. And vice versa.”) and Gell established himself as a self-confessed beta male who halfheartedly jokes, “I am happy to benefit from the extraordinarily low expectations people have of me.”
Keep in mind that The Cut is a site which recently featured a sneering, openly sexist piece titled, “Oh Good, Now Men Are Trying to Ruin Book Clubs,” in which the female author responded to a New York Times profile of various men’s book clubs. The Cut writer unfairly judged the club members to be sexist and the very concept of such a club ridiculous because men are stupid. Their self-deprecating humor which proved her wrong on both counts sailed right over her head. [For my own response to the Times piece and a defense of men’s book clubs, read more here.]
The Cut’s new Beta Male blog is equally close-minded and sexist, featuring posts with titles like “How America Became Infatuated With a Cartoonish Idea of ‘Alpha Males,’” “How Trump Has Revived the Republican Cult of Manliness,” and “Video of Dads Dancing Badly Goes Viral Because No One Expects Anything From Men.” That last title – about a charming viral video of fathers dancing awkwardly with their babies – was not a lament that men aren’t respected; the male author was genuinely, angrily contemptuous of the hands-on fathers he calls “these uncoordinated goons.”
So The Cut is off to a great start condescending toward the men it purportedly wants to understand better. Mansplaining and Beta Male aren’t providing its readers any sympathetic insight into men; instead, they’re trivializing men’s interests and making men look inept, shallow, pathetic, and confused about their own masculinity.
In all fairness, The Cut is a fashion blog and shouldn’t be expected to dive deep into the issue or resolve the gender war singlehanded; but if it truly wanted to do its small part to bridge the yawning chasm between the sexes in these gender-confused, feminism-ravaged times, it would drop the condescension and show men and its own male contributors as much respect as it would women and its female writers. It would encourage male writers who respect themselves and masculinity itself. It would stop doing what women complain that men do: dismissively ignore the opposite sex.
From Acculturated, 5/25/16

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mark 'Oz' Geist Recounts Harrowing Night in Benghazi

Check out this video (and transcript below) of my onstage interview of Benghazi hero Mark "Oz" Geist at the Horowitz Freedom Center's West Coast Retreat back in April. Geist is a hardcore American warrior and his story is fascinating.

Mark Tapson: I have the distinct privilege tonight to share the stage with one of the heroes of the 2012 Benghazi attacks and the coauthor of the book "Thirteen Hours."  How many people here have either read the book or seen the movie "Thirteen Hours" or both?  Okay, pretty good.  I strongly recommend both.  The book is a page-turning thriller and the movie is one of the best action flicks ever, and I'm a big action movie fan, but both of these have a key difference in them and that’s that the events that they depict were real and they were as serious as a heart attack.  And that adds a very affecting emotional dimension to both reading the book and watching the movie, so I recommend them both. 

I hadn't met Mark Geist until this evening when I came down for dinner, and I spotted someone who looked like he knows 19 different ways to kill you with his bare hands.  And then I realized, "Oh, that's Louie Gohmert." But then I looked slightly to the right and I thought, "Oh, there's a guy who looks like he knows 20 ways to kill you with his bare hands," and that was Mark Geist.

After talking with Mark a little bit beforehand, I realized that he and I have a lot in common, actually.  First of all we're both named Mark, which I consider very significant.  Second, he is a highly trained elite warrior who went from the U.S. military to a clandestine operation protecting American covert intelligence operations in one of the most dangerous hot spots in the world. And I too am named Mark. 

So, that's about the extent of it.  And I say that not to just make a self-deprecating joke, but to highlight something that's very apparent about Mark Geist when you either read the book or watch the movie, and that is that Mark and his brothers in arms are a breed apart.  To paraphrase George Orwell or supposedly George Orwell, they are the rough men who stand ready and enable the rest of us to sleep peacefully in our beds at night.  As much as everyone would like me to continue talking I'm going to bring Mark Geist up now and have a chat with him.  So, please welcome Mark Geist.
Let me begin by taking the liberty of speaking for everyone here when I thank you for your service in the Marine Corps.  

Mark Geist: Thank you.

Mark Tapson: Or as our president would call it, the "Marine Corpse."  And thanks also for your courage under fire in Benghazi and for risking your life to do the right thing.  

Mark Geist: Thank you very much.  

Mark Tapson: Thanks also for coming here to talk with us.  

Mark Geist: Thank you. 

Mark Tapson: Let me get started with a question here.  Let's start at the beginning.  How did you wind up in Benghazi and what is your background?  How did that bring you to being in Benghazi in 2012?

Vanity Fair is Saddened by Captain America’s Heterosexuality

Having earned a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90% and just under a billion dollars worldwide since its May 6 release, the latest Marvel superhero movie Captain America: Civil War has rightfully won over critics and audiences alike. Joanna Robinson at Vanity Fair was one of those impressed critics, calling CA:CV great; but she is oddly disappointed by what she considers one nagging flaw: the filmmakers did not make the relationship between the movie’s titular hero – real name Steve Rogers – and his close pal Bucky Barnes explicitly gay.
Robinson seems to be part of what she calls “the intensely devoted section of the Captain America fan base who consider Bucky, not Peggy Carter, to be the true object of Steve Rogers’ affection.” I’m not enough of a Marvel fanboy to know the full history of Cap and Bucky’s relationship, but I suspect it’s fair to say that from its comic book origins up through its cinematic iterations, it was never intended to be homosexual, regardless of how much actors Chris Evans (Capt. America) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky) have enjoyed teasing fans about that possibility during the movie’s publicity tour. Director Joe Russo himself, shrewdly keeping the titillation simmering, has remarked, “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it.”
But the movie itself leaves little room for interpretation: the fictional friends are clearly straight, frustrating as this may be for those fans itching for a little gay onscreen flirtation. Romantic sparks fly between Cap and Peggy Carter’s niece, and there is a scene in which Steve and Bucky get nostalgic about their days chasing girls in pre-war Brooklyn. Vanity Fair’s Robinson dismisses this as “a sweet, human bonding moment, but one that also bristles with heterosexual virility.” [Emphasis added]
Robinson feels that a heterosexual romance is predictable, boring and flat. She swoons that “there was more juice in Bucky ogling Steve’s bulging bicep as Cap struggled to ground a helicopter.” It takes an especially fevered and salacious imagination to look right past Capt. America’s awe-inspiring, heroic effort in that tense action sequence and focus instead on what she imagines to be Bucky’s lust for Steve’s muscles. That says something about our culture’s profane and ignoble obsessions.
Robinson goes on to complain that “Marvel seems to think it has to have its heroes in heterosexual love affairs in order to maximize audience appeal.” In fact, Marvel doesn’t just “seem to think” this – it is a demonstrable fact that an overwhelming proportion of the world audience is heterosexual. As readers at the Twitchy website noted, it would have been a huge mistake for Marvel Studios to flip the characters’ sexuality. “When [writers] alter an existing character with decades of history to make the PC crowd happy, then it’s complete garbage because it’s blatant pandering,” said one reader.
More importantly, making the heroes’ sexual orientation the central focus of their relationship diminishes the profound nature of friendship, particularly between men. Great fictional male heroes from the earliest beginnings of literature have had close, nonsexual bonds with other men: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, Hamlet and Horatio, Holmes and Watson, Frodo and Sam, all the way up to Batman and Robin, and now Captain America and Bucky. But today we seem perversely insistent on sexualizing everything and then pushing the envelope of traditional notions of sexuality. For Robinson and her ilk, heroism and committed friendship in superhero flicks are less compelling than bringing a perceived homosexual subtext to the forefront of the film.
“Would it really have hurt,” Robinson yearned, “to keep their relationship more ambiguous?... If Disney isn’t inclined to give audiences a gay superhero, couldn’t they have at least left us the dream of Bucky and Cap?” It’s revealing that a critic at a pop culture outlet of Vanity Fair’s stature would express such frustration that a powerful friendship between two men isn’t sexualized. It shows a shallow appreciation for that bond and a subversive desire to undermine what the magazine’s critic dismissed as “heterosexual virility.” She doesn’t seem to object to virility per se, only the heterosexual kind, because that is, in today’s politically correct parlance, heteronormative, and anything “normative” must be oppressive and outmoded.
In the end, Vanity Fair fatalistically accepts that Marvel never intended to bring out “the homoerotic subtext of Cap and Bucky.” Again, that subtext exists only in the minds of those desperate to find one. Perhaps if the Joanne Robinsons in the audience could elevate their sights above an imagined sexual subtext and focus on the nobler nature of the characters’ friendship, they might have found Captain America: Civil War as uplifting and inspiring as everyone else.
From Acculturated, 5/23/16

Sunday, May 15, 2016

In Defense of All-Male Book Clubs

Last week the Men’s Style section of The New York Times featured a piece titled, “Men Have Book Clubs, Too,” about the apparently growing phenomenon of men getting together to share literary interests and opinions. The notion that men might actually share any thoughts with each other besides their opinions of the previous night’s boxing match, much less literary interests and opinions, sadly was not cause for celebration; instead it sparked internet skepticism, ridicule, and social justice outrage.
Gatherings of women are typically viewed as empowering. Gatherings of men are typically viewed as potentially dangerous – and when they are massed in a soccer stadium or prison yard, that may be a reasonable concern. But paradoxically, when men don’t conform to the worst perceived norms of masculine behavior – say, by chatting about books around a dinner table rather than roaring at a big-screen TV in a man cave – they are ridiculed for it.
Men whose reading material extends beyond Playboy pictorials and motorcycle manuals are sometimes considered rather effeminate. It’s difficult to picture, say, masculinity icons Steve McQueen and Ernest Hemingway – who actually wrote novels – sharing thoughtful opinions about, say, The Goldfinch or even the stark and brutal works of Cormac McCarthy. “Fiction is designed to examine empathy,” said a member of the Houston Men’s Book Club. “Men aren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings or emotions in public.” And the assumption exists, says John Creagar, another men’s book club regular, that “if guys read, we don’t think that deeply about it.”
Pew Research in recent years has shown that women are more than twice as likely to take part in reading clubs as men are, and thus participation in such groups is perceived as a female activity. Creagar suspects there are many more male readers who are eager to join a book club, “but they don’t get asked, or they worry that, if they do join, they’ll be seen as intruding on a female activity or stigmatized as being the only guy.”
Men’s book clubs are solving that dilemma. “I was always a little jealous of my wife’s book clubs,” says Andrew McCullough, founder of the Man Book Club, one of the clubs profiled in the NY Times. “Now our wives are jealous of us.”
The article went on to profile two other book clubs, The New York City Gay Guys Book Club (with a whopping 1200 members, anywhere from 10 to 60 of which show up at individual meetings) and the International Ultra Manly Book Club (IUMBC), a Kansas City group which sees itself as a resource for men seeking a literary community. IUMBC’s monthly meetings offer men “a space to explore literary depictions of what it means to be a man,” as the Times article puts it. “We do not read so-called chick lit,” said Man Book Club’s McCullough.
The IUMBC website states, “We started this group to find great books suitable for our masculinity, and we wanted to prove that book clubs aren’t only for middle aged women.” Its vision statement declares, with a hint of defensiveness but also a lighthearted self-awareness, “[t]hat one day we men of the world could be more educated, have deeper conversations, and connect with our fellow men. That one day we could step out of the shadow of our mothers’ book clubs and proclaim that yes, we too, are intellectuals.”
Speaking of lighthearted self-awareness, the members of these clubs are aware that they are treading beyond gender stereotypes, and don’t take themselves over-seriously. The name of the Man Book Club, for example, is a clever play on England’s most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize. The IUMBC rates the books its members read on a five-hand-grenade system for “manliness,” and its web pages are adorned with figures like a bicep-flexing Dwayne Johnson and book-toting Chuck Norris.
The Times article should have been greeted with a celebratory appreciation for such stereotype-smashing clubs, but because male-bashing is a national pastime, the eye-rolling reaction to was widespread in the news and social media. The book club men were accused of being narrow-minded for focusing on books by and about men. One writer even said such book clubs perpetuate “the patriarchy’s continued dominance.” “That Men’s Book Clubs Article Mostly Just Made Me Sad,” was the title of a New York Magazine online response. The Man Book Club even felt compelled to defend itself in a follow-up “apologia.”
Surprisingly, Slate – not normally known for leaping to the defense of men – rose up in defense of men’s book clubs, declaring that “Feminists Shouldn’t Roll Our Eyes at Men-Only Books Clubs. We Should Applaud Them.” Of course, Slate sees such men as taking “a small but important stand against repressive gender roles” in the hopeful sense that men one day might throw off masculinity altogether and become indistinguishable from women. In fact, these men are not bonding together not so much to question the core of masculinity but to explore dimensions of it that are often culturally repressed.
At least Slate’s headline got it right. If our culture celebrated and men to be as multi-dimensional as we actually are instead of trading in stereotypes and perpetuating them (while sneering at them), men would feel encouraged to cultivate the best aspects of their masculine nature. And that's something that benefits men and women alike.
From Acculturated, 5/13/16