Archive for the ‘masculinity’ Category

Emily Yoffe at State puts her finger on precisely why I can’t believe that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent of sexual assault. It seems DSK has given an interview to French TV, trying to exonerate himself but providing no real answers:

Although we only have translated summaries of the interview, Strauss-Kahn acknowledges there was a sexual encounter between the two but says no force was involved and he didn’t offer her money.  … If there was no force, and no money, are we to believe it was his continental charm that caused Diallo to get on her knees and relieve a stranger?

(See the rest of Yoffe’s analysis here; also at Slate, William Saletan offers a tandem, equally skeptical analysis.)

Exactement! This was the weakest point in the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the case – how to explain the sex if no compulsion was involved?

In that motion, the prosecutors note that the complainant, Nafissatou Diallo, lied repeatedly, thus shredding her credibility (and, I agree, almost certainly alienating every potential jury in the world). But the evidence in the case went beyond he-said/she-said. While injury evidence was inconclusive, DNA analysis indisputably shows that DSK deposited his semen in the complainant’s mouth – a point that DSK does not dispute.

And so we have to ask, what narrative could possibly explain this most unlikely mixing of fluids? What sort of unpaid, consensual encounter could take place in the span of 20 minutes or less, from first meeting to au revoir?

Here’s how the prosecutors laid out the timeline in their motion to dismiss:

The relatively brief nature of the encounter between the defendant and the complainant initially suggested that the sexual act was not likely consensual. Specifically, key card records from the hotel indicated that the complainant first entered Suite 2806 at 12:06 p·.m., and telephone records later showed that the defendant had placed a call to his daughter at 12:13 p.m. Accordingly, it appeared that whatever had occurred between the complainant and the defendant was over in approximately seven to nine minutes. But in light of the complainant’s failure to offer an accurate and consistent narrative of the immediate aftermath of the encounter, it is impossible to determine the length of the encounter itself. That the defendant placed a brief phone call at 12:13 p.m. is not dispositive of when the encounter took place, how long it lasted, or where the complainant was from 12:06 to 12:26. Any inferences that could conceivably be drawn from the timeline of the encounter are necessarily weakened by the inability to solidify the timeline itself. (pp. 23-4)

But the prosecution hasn’t actually shown that the timeline is shaky. Not at all! DSK checked out at 12:28 p.m. (p. 6). The longest time span during which he and Diallo could have occupied the same space is 20 minutes. The prosecution has established this very ably indeed. Questions about what Diallo did after 12:26 – and inconsistencies in her testimony about her immediate reaction – don’t change the fact that the sexual encounter must have occurred in 20 minutes or less. (There is some question about the accuracy of the hotel’s clock and the key-card records, but the two-minute discrepancy described in footnote 25 would suggest an even shorter timeframe.)

Given that we’re taking about a 20-minute encounter, here is what we must believe to hold DSK innocent: We must imagine that a conspiracy set Diallo on DSK to entrap him and ruin his career. Or we must believe that Diallo was a prostitute – a possibility that both she and DSK have denied. Or we must presume that Diallo initiated the encounter in an attempt to sue DSK and get rich. All three of these theories are far-fetched on the face of it. And if you think any one of them aren’t totally bird-brained – well, consider that DSK was practically heading out the door. A few minutes later, and Diallo and DSK would have never crossed paths. That’s a piss-poor way to plan a conspiracy or entrapment.

Or, of course, we may choose to believe that DSK’s charm and charisma alone will bring any woman quite literally to her knees, with no desire for reciprocity. This charm. This charisma.

(Source: The Guardian)

Okay, that’s not quite fair. There are more flattering photos of DSK. But he’s no beauty. He’s a jowly man on the cusp of old age. I’m much closer to him in age than Diallo is, and yet I can’t imagine even eating potato chips with him in bed, fully clothed.

I don’t think any belief about what happened in Suite 2806 can be held “beyond reasonable doubt,” and in any event, the case will never come before a jury. But since DSK is appealing to the jury of public opinion, it’s fair to ask: Which is more plausible? Were two strangers overwhelmed by by lust? Or did a rich and famous man opportunistically assume that room service included gratification of his every whim?

(As an aside: the motion to dismiss notes that four other stains in the hallway – not the bedroom! – were found to contain semen from men other than DSK. And here I thought bedbugs were the only reason to avoid New York hotels. I know the Sofitel caters to the privileged, but can’t they at least avoid splattering the wallpaper?)

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Now we know why Anthony Weiner tweeted his wang: his inner ape/caveman made him do it.

Funny how when reporters are trolling for “expert” sources on sex, evolutionary psychologists seem to be their first stop. They could consult some of us gender studies types, but they don’t have us on speed-dial. Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to give them a pat explanation, because I think that masculine sexual entitlement isn’t the whole story. We all have an unruly id. Men aren’t the only folks playing at sex on the Internet. Every hetero man playing around in the vast cyber sex emporium is interacting with female partners (or at least, so he thinks). I do think it’s true that a congresswoman who’d sent naked coochie pix would be shamed even more ferociously than Weiner. For both genders, though, sex is messy – emotionally, physically, and now technologically. Sex is humiliating when it’s reduced to screen shots, and that goes for all genders. Maybe someone like Gail Dines could reduce the Weiner saga to a tale of female victimization, but I tend to think that she, too, would see more nuance and complexity. (Echidne, for one, delivers on the nuance beautifully. So does Lilith at Evil Slutopia.)

The ev psych crowd, by contrast, provides the sort of soundbites that practically write the article for you. Consider Jeana Bryner’s piece, “Sex, Lies, and Weiner,” at LiveScience:

“I don’t think that people really take into account an accurate sense of just how risky a text message or a little picture is,” said Daniel Kruger, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. “There are probably a hundred different things they’re doing in their day.” …

From an evolutionary perspective, men are here to sow their seeds, so a sexual transgression here and there would make sense. They desire more sexual partners, and even lower their standards when it comes to one-night stands, studies have shown.

“The ultimate currency here is reproductive success and if there’s an opportunity for sex that is a goal that is worthy of such a risk,” Kruger said. …

This evolutionary urge, combined with modern technology that lets a person send off a note or photo to anyone in the ether, takes such risk-taking to a new level.

(Read the complete article here; note that the ellipses are mine.)

Here’s the kicker, though. Weiner’s chances of “sowing his seed” through social media were precisely nil. He took his bouncing bulge into the shower, from whence his seed could at best fertilize a female rat. His chats with blackjack dealer about a junket to Las Vegas sound like empty flirting, not serious trip planning.

It’s a basic tenet of standard evolutionary psychology that men’s sexual behavior is oriented toward fertilizing as many women as possible. That’s of course not synonymous with reproductive success, anyway, given that human offspring are uniquely vulnerable for an extraordinarily long time, and so “paternal investment” – sticking around to help raise the baby – actually amplifies a man’s chance of having his spawn live until adulthood.

But even if we ignore the importance of paternal investment in offspring, there’s a bigger gap in the ev psych explanation of Weinergate. Mainstream practitioners of ev psych systematically avoid theorizing about pleasure. It’s all about “reproductive success.” And yet, the quest for pleasure is by far the more parsimonious explanation for Weiner’s actions. What’s more, it even explains his partners’ actions! Weiner and his partners were looking to get off. They wanted the thrill of being wanted. They enjoyed the thrill enough to risk (or repress) the potential for embarrassment, should they be caught out. Of course it’s true that Weiner, as a congressman, had more to lose, but the women have also been dragged through the mud in ways that were foreseeable. They, too, took a risk.**

But that interpretation evidently isn’t as, well, sexy, since it presumes that men and women don’t come from Mars and Venus. They come from Earth. And they like getting earthy together, even if only virtually. Men and women both willingly take risks for the sake of pleasure. That’s actually quite a stunning story in the hands of an imaginative reporter who’s not cowed by the new dogma of ev psych. (Calling Natalie Angier?)

**(With the possible exception of Meagan Broussard, who provided pictures to Breitbart, including the sole copy of the cock-shot that Breitbart swore he wouldn’t release until … well, until it was no longer a useful chip in his little game of blackmail. Broussard may well have had motives that I’d consider much baser than pleasure.)

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So tell me, if you’ve ever fantasized about sex in public, did you have a solo effort in mind? And if so, did you imagine just how mind-blowingly sexy it’d be to whack off in your local Walmart? That’s a scenario I’ve never seen in Cosmo. In fact, I think it might even invalidate Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” (I went searching for porn set in Walmart. Maybe I’m just having a bad google day, but I came up empty.) Clearly, this is a cutting-edge sex act.

And yet, a local man (not of my acquaintance) dared to live out his pole-polishing fantasies at my local Walmart!

Details in the university’s paper of record, The Post, are tantalizingly brief and slippery:

OMG, did the paper have to juxtapose the crime report with a picture of – what’s that – an erect baseball bat? Hitting it out of the park for – a home run? Oh, Walmart dude: you should have gone to sporting goods. There, you might have started a pick-up game and at least tried to get to second base. (To be clear: the athlete pictured is not the accused Walmart wanker.)

Now, at this juncture I should take a feminist stand. I know this is my duty. I should mention that men who expose themselves in public are engaged in an act of predation and intimidation. I could regale you with my Carl’s Junior bathroom encounter with a peeping tom. And I could concede that women commit similar acts on occasion (Girls Gone Wild, anyone?), but it’s absurd to call nonconsensual exhibitionism and voyeurism a sport protected under Title IX. Instead, these are intrusive manifestations of male sexual entitlement that remind women not to step out of line or consider their sexuality their own. As always, the bedrock principle is self-determination and consent. And I’m quite certain that in this case, his fellow shoppers had not consented to a free peep show.

But I can’t sustain that argument (correct though it be). I just keep bumping into WALMART – and giggling. I mean, a guy actually decided to buff his bishop under those glaring fluorescent lights, in constant danger of ramming carts, and under the watchful eyes of store detectives (or, as the piece preciously puts it, “loss prevention officers”). This just floors me. I’m still trying to parse what it means to be “near” automotive. Was he actually in the nearby toy section, a fact that – if true – trigger a moral panic about local pedophiles? Or was he actually in automotive, turned on by the manly-man smells of grease and rubber tires? Perhaps he had just misunderstood the meaning of “lube job”?

Seeking to understand, I undertook some research, which revealed that our local miscreant was not the first to get a Walmart woody. He’s probably not even the most abject, if you consider a case reported last year in the Frisky:

In case you folks were thinking about masturbating in public anytime soon, let William Tyler Black be an example of what not to do. The 28-year-old substitute teacher (yes … teacher) was arrested in Florida (yes … Florida) yesterday for spreading his baby batter all over a local Walmart (yes … Walmart).

William apparently became aroused by the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, featuring Brooklyn Decker, while browsing at his local Walmart in Sarasota. He decided to pleasure himself right then and there, splooging all over the floor and wiping some of it onto a “Star Wars” light saber in the toy section. When confronted by the staff about his masturbation session, he said he was buying a toy for his daughter. (Oh no! He’s a father?) He was charged with battery and exposure of sexual organs. Just so we’re clear, this is not something you should ever do. I don’t care how hot Brooklyn Decker is.

At least no light sabers were involved here in Athens, though I should add that there’s one wacky connection between the two incidents: Ohio and Florida are now tied for having the least popular governors! If you’re saddled with a Governor Jerk-off, why not join him?

But geez, Walmart? Rly? This is precisely why the Ceiling Cat created almost-private rooms for us.

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Henceforth, Kittywampus is banning all dudely commenters. Exceptions will be made if you bathe regularly, did not serve in the Boer War, have never called me a twat, and have never insulted the patron cat of this blog, Grey Kitty. Oh, and if you’re that dude who created Hufu, you got banned months ago. (That asshole – one of the AutoAdmit crowed – broke all the above: he abused my dear departed cat, reviled me as “dozy bint,” and called me a cunt. Given his predilection for war zones, he no doubt regrets missing the Boer War and bathes infrequently. He was a gleeful racist too. He has not been missed.)

All joking aside, Twisty Faster really has banned male commenters from her blog, I Blame the Patriarchy. Unless they’re already trusted dudes; then they’re grandfathered in. Or unless they don’t actually identify themselves as dudes; then they can try to sneak in. Reaction in feminist blogdonia has been partly supportive (Jill at Feministe and figleaf) and partly scathing (Clarissa).

I get that Twisty has every right to restrict commenting as much as she’d like on her blog. She already does anyway. I don’t regularly read Twisty because even though her writing is often amusing, her actual ideas are usually predictable once you’ve read a couple dozen of her posts. Also, the comments tend to be an echo chamber. I am quickly bored by any discussion where the first commandment is to police oneself. But hey – her blog, her rules. And while I don’t want to stray into all the pros and cons of same-sex spaces, there are times when a rather homogenous group can make headway on shared issues, and when a same-sex grouping can be productive as a temporary, tactical measure (with the caveat that each person gets to identify his/her/hir sex and gender, rather than having it imposed by fiat).

But it’s not just Twisty who nurtures some hope of creating a safe space – on the Internet? First, that’s just incoherent, because, well, it’s the fucking Internet! This is like expecting privacy while standing in front of the White House, naked except for a feather boa. The Internet just doesn’t do “safe.” (Ask any parent who’s installed NannyNet.)

Best case, the blog owner corralls hateful comments out of the comments section. But believe me, the blog owner will see the bile, and comments will never be a safe space for her or him! Contrary to Sady Doyle’s view, anti-feminist vitriol is not a special treat reserved for the “popular” feminist blogs. We little blogs get it, too, and while it may be less copious, it’s still ugly. It’s enough to be blogging while feminist. Perhaps on a private blog, you could create some sense of safety. But even then, you’d be wise to keep in mind that “safety” is not synonymous with self-censorship.

A “safe space” has some kinship what I try to foster in the classroom (though there’s always a power differential, always the knowledge that students’ work will be graded, which limits how “safe” they can – or should – feel.) There, “safety” has to do with the basic regard for the humanity of the other discussants. You can embrace norms in a small, defined group that actually facilitate conversation because people feel relatively safe and free. This works better when people can look into each others’ eyes, not so well when the community is wholly virtual and can more easily ignore the humanity of their counterpart. It cracks and crashes as soon as a participant expresses a hateful -ism, uses PC-ness to shame rather than educate, or gossips cruelly about a personal revelation. In my experience, “safety” is relative, often fragile and transient, sometimes deceptive, and generally not dependent on group homogeneity.

Which raises a crucial question: safe for whom? The comments on Twisty’s original dude-banning post troll the waters of transphobia and transmisogyny; on the follow-up, where Twisty affirms that trans folk are welcome (at least until the revolution, after which they’ll fade away), the comments jump right into the deep end of the pool. I am not going to sully my own space with direct quotes, but here’s the gist: commenters compare transness to pedophilia, call “cisprivilege” BS, declare all trans people “nuts,” and deny trans people’s experience – all in the name of radical feminism. At one point Twisty tells people to cut it out, but then Delphyne shows up and the party really gets started, with slams at the third wave, funfems, and sex workers.

By the time the fun’s over, the thread looks like the verbal equivalent of a frat party the morning after, complete with broken bottles and barf in the corner. Commenter yttik sums it up succinctly:

I kid you not, some of the worst patriarchal crap always winds up on this blog, just dripping it’s woman hatred all over the place. This is how women apparently define other women. No wonder we’re screwed.

just a bunch of cum-guzzling pole dancers
nothing but walking uteri and tits
third wave moron bandwagon
fucking dumb
a bunch of old, white, rich, racist women
a fuckhole
a party to human rights violations
white ass (American) women
backstabbing dykes
profoundly stupid and ignorant
step over the cold dead bodies of fucking white ass women-born-women feminists

Yttik is quoting from the other comments; those weren’t terms she personally used, and significantly, some were phrases commenters used to characterize their rhetorical opponents (sometimes fairly, sometimes not). The bile came from all directions, not just the anti-trans faction. But notice a pattern? The shouting match moved from transmisogyny to plain old-fashioned misogyny without skipping a beat.

And it managed all that without a single unauthorized dude in the house!

Twisty does have an actual dude problem, but it’s of a different order than the crap I got from Mr. Hufu. (Which I’m sure she sees by the buckets in her comment moderation queue and deletes on sight.) Twisty attracts men who want to please her, and so they engage in this fascinating yet repellent dance of “I’m so enlightened that I must verbally self-flagellate before your royal Twistyness so that I can become even more enlightened.” At a minimum, they ape her writing mannerisms. They may self-identify as a Nigel – Twisty’s one-size-fits-all name for dudes – and they decry douchiness even as they smarmily demonstrate it. Oh, just go read her example. It really is pretty funny. These guys aren’t standard-issue anti-feminist trolls. They’re not concern trolls. They’re … well, Twisty trolls, her own troll species. They are mutants. And I could see why she’d show them the door.

While she’s at it, maybe she could usher out a few transphobic self-described “radical” feminists, too?

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In my offline reading this week, I came upon an argument for the allure of big boobs. The writer stated that all men prefer large breasts – and that women with small ones risked being misread as men.

Well, I’ve never been mistaken for a man, even though I’m decidedly not one of those gals who – as Susan once said of Edie on Desperate Housewives – enters a room several minutes after her breasts. The only time I was taunted for looking boyish, I had short hair and was five years old. Most of us lesser-breasted girls endured some teasing in junior high and beyond, but we were teased very specifically as girls. (Of course, no one escaped: the busty girls just had to deal with other forms of harassment. And everyone’s bra strap got snapped, sooner or later.)

Now that I’ve reached an age where gravity is an irresistible force and the flesh no longer an immovable object, smaller breasts have some real advantages. Who’d have thought that in seventh grade?

As for all men desiring large breasts? I doubt that’s true, either, though I think it’s still a widely held preconception. It may well be that some college-aged men, having grown up with ubiquitous access to porn, really do expect DDs or more. Even back in my youth, some men were fixated on size: the “breast men” of yore.

But all men? I started to do the math, and I realized that if all heterosexual men insisted on larger-than-average breasts, half of them would be left without a partner. It would be worse than China! Men would have to discover a dude-bro version of Lake Wobegon – one where instead of all the children being above average, all the boobs would be bigger than a C cup.

Back here in the real world, though, most men ultimately seem more interested in whole women, not just their parts. At least, that’s been my experience and observation. Yours, too, I hope?

Echinacea in Berlin’s Tiergarten, July 2010; photo by Sungold

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Would you leave your gravely injured mate on earth while you blast off for several weeks in outer space? Today came reports that Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, may be planning to do just that in April. Salon describes Kelly’s choice – to fly, or to stay home and support his wife through rehab – as “a troubling predicament.”

Really? I’d say that if this is a predicament, my brain is a porous pickle. (Which, incidentally, is possible.) Your partner gets shot, through the brain, and a large arc of skull is removed to prevent brain cells from dying due to swelling. Minimum spousal duty according to Sungold: you stick around at least until the missing piece of skull has been replaced. This takes months. In the case of CBS newsman Bob Woodruff, doctors waited four months before reopening the wounds and placing a prosthesis. Until the patient has a complete skull again (whether composed of their own bone or, like Woodruff, a synthetic material), she wears a bulky helmet to protect the brain.

For me, staying home would be, um, a no-brainer. But can Kelly really help his wife? Salon reports:

Research shows a strong social support network — family, friends, church or similar — is crucial for rehabilitating patients and improves the outcome.

But that doesn’t mean a spouse has to be there 24-7, 365 days, said Dr. David Lacey, medical director of acute inpatient rehab services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

“You also have to look at what’s normal for the couple,” Lacey said. “If it were my parents who had almost never been apart for the entire 50-some years they were married, all of a sudden changing that structure would be a pretty dramatic impact.”

But what’s normal for Kelly and Giffords, through their three-year marriage, is spending a few weeks apart at a time — he in Houston, she in Washington or her home state of Arizona. However, Kelly, 46, kept vigil at her side in the days immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson. The rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured.

But nothing is normal when one partner is struck by a devastating illness or injury. Three weeks of normal life is not the same as three crucial weeks in rehab. Indeed, nothing is normal now about their previously independent relationship. Giffords will rely on her husband as caregiver-partner for a long time to come. Perhaps forever. It’s hard to feel indomitable, I suspect, when your brain is protected by thin skin and a helmet. It’s hard to feel enterprising when your mobility is highly restricted.

I don’t know Congresswoman Giffords or her husband (obviously!), but I’m irked by the presumption that Giffords ought to be game for her husband taking off, because that’s the kind of gal she’s always been. She’s not that gal now. Salon, again:

Mark Kelly has said he’d like the decision to be made jointly, with his wife’s opinion, if possible.

A former NASA colleague, Susan Still Kilrain, said if she can, Giffords will tell him to go.

Kilrain, in 1997, became the second American woman to pilot a space shuttle. Then, she was single. She recalls how Ashby’s wife, Diana, urged him to continue with his mission training despite her cancer.

“She really wanted him to stop sitting around and waiting for her to die,” Kilrain said. “All the wives would feel that way, and his wife (Giffords) seems to have a very big support system.”

That said, there’s no way Kilrain would resume training under the Kelly-Giffords circumstances. Women, she noted, tend to be the caregivers. She points to her own life story: She stood down from space flying after her first child was born, and quit NASA in 2002. She’s a stay-at-home mom to four children, ages 4 to 11.

“Me personally? I wouldn’t fly,” Kilrain said from her home in Virginia. “But I certainly would definitely respect his decision to fly. I wouldn’t second-guess that in a minute.”

For me, this type of decision isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. I’ve been on both sides of this decision (minus the cool space stuff). And guess what? I didn’t fly. Nor did he.

When my husband fell terribly ill in Berlin, we stayed on for months while he completed treatment. I didn’t think once of taking the kids and flying back to the States. I dropped out of teaching (without any pay) for six months. Good thing, too, because the treatment was about as perilous as the disease. He needed help, as much as I could provide while also keeping the kids together, body and soul. I needed to be near him. We needed each other. Believe me, you don’t want to be on the other side of the world – or even out of this world – if your partner is gravely ill. That bit about “in sickness and in health”? It’s a vow that expresses the (temporarily) healthy partner’s need, too, to provide care and support and closeness. It’s not just about the sick guy.

Then, turnabout: Two years ago, when an MRI report suggested I likely had MS or vasculitis in my brain, my husband was scheduled to attend a conference in Germany. He was worried about leaving me, and so he asked my doc what he would do. “I’d stay home,” said my doc. And so my mate canceled his trip. Fortunately, my brain managed not to explode. (We still don’t know what was up, but we’re pretty sure it’s neither MS nor vasculitis.) My husband could have made his trip safely, after all. He would have worried the whole time, and I would have quivered in fear, again responsible for the kids but without knowing if they could count on me. I was also just plain sick – very sick. I say he made the right call. He says he doesn’t regret it.

I question whether we should applaud wives for playing the martyr, struggling against long odds and terrible pain while their partner achieves a dream. We do not expect quite the same of men, nor should we. Instead, how about if Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly make a mutual decision that isn’t swayed by these cheering squads who seem to hope Giffords will gamely wave him goodbye? (That image conjures up the anniversary of the Challenger, which just passed, and how those brave families on the ground sometimes don’t get their astronauts back.) Maybe they’ll decide that he should fly after all. But if he stays with his wife, I can’t imagine how he could ever regret it.

Really. It’s not a predicament. It’s a no-brainer. (That cheap witticism is sure gaining mileage, yes?) If you do what’s least likely to cause regrets, the prognosis for future happiness and harmony will be better. You don’t need a neurosurgeon, astronaut, or even a small-potatoes blogger in Ohio to say this. Most of us know it as soon as we reflect on who and what we truly love.

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So every time I’ve logged into Facebook recently, this ad keeps popping up:

I do like handsome men! I do like men a few years older than me! (Emphasis on: a FEW.)

It’s just that … I’m 47. Only 47. I’m still years from qualifying for the senior meal at Denny’s or Bob Evans. And yet, I’m being hit up on behalf of “Mature American Men,” aka dudes old enough to be my dad.

This is all academic since I’m not on the market. But if I were, and if I went for guys younger than me, I’d instantly be branded a cougar. Evidently, the men my age are supposed to pair off with women 15 years younger. What’s left is the contingent at the Senior Citizen Center. Should I be suddenly single, I’d better spiff up my pinochle skills.

I would love to know if men in my general age group are targeted similarly. “Meet sexy senior women – hot grannies!” Sure, that’s a niche market. I doubt it’s advertised on Facebook. I think you have to go looking for it.

What say you, men between 37 and 57?

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I kvetch a lot about snow days on this blog, because the North Dakotan girl in me is annoyed and appalled at how my little town in southeast Ohio shuts down as soon as a dozen snowflakes stick to the ground.

But this North Dakotan girl also knows the difference between a snow flurry and a blizzard. When the weather forecasters tell you that a foot and a half of snow is about to whomp your town, you locate your flashlights, make sure you’ve got food in the house, and then you hunker down.

“Hunkering down” ≠ getting in your car and driving.

And so I am amazed and appalled at how New Yorkers compounded their quandary by putting their cars on the streets where snowbanks could form all around them and block the plows. People! When Minneapolis got an equal dump of snow earlier this month, did you see the Minnesotans turning their city streets into impromptu parking lots?

I feel for the folks who are camping out at the airports and train stations. Their predicament was a stroke of rotten luck. But the motorists? Except for those few who were responding to an emergency, they were captured by hubris and willful stupidity, which they then inflicted on the whole city. It makes me think of this very cool puzzle/one-person game my kids got for Christmas, where you try to unsnarl gridlocked traffic …

… except that in real life, there’s negative fun and everyone loses.

Oh, and staying home in a blizzard isn’t a sign of the “wussification of America,” no matter what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s thinks. Real men are smart enough to hunker down during the storm (again: not in their cars!!). They’ll have plenty of chances to prove their mettle when the digging out begins.

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It’s possible that John Boehner cries easily for the reason I do: he’s easily touched and not so hot at self-control. But I’m not buying that. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her excellent segment on Boehner’s waterworks, if the fate of America’s children reduces him to tears, he could actually take steps to improve their future!

Boehner’s not the first pol to cry easily and often in public; he’s just the most unexpected and the least discriminating when it comes to his triggers. Rachel traces the history of weeping politicians back to Edmund Muskie, whose alleged tears in New Hampshire allegedly derailed his 1972 Democratic primary. (Muskie’s damp cheeks – and the weird media reaction – are among my earliest political memories. He won that primary but lost the nomination.)

Rachel argues,

There’s nothing wrong with politicians showing emotion. There’s nothing wrong with politicians crying in public. It demonstrably does not hurt them with voters, but it shows us what they feel passionately about, and what’s wrong with that?

So true. And yet, while you can find military giants shedding tears in the ancient world, here in the U.S. we’ve liked our men tough and dry-eyed. For a political leader to cry publicly was pretty well verboten from the end of WWII until the closing years of the Cold War. The same probably holds true all the way back to George Washington and his unruffled wig, but this is a blog post, not a book. So let us think of our post-war presidents! Truman was gruff and bluff. Eisenhower never lost his military bearing. JFK drew much of his power from his aristocratic cool. (Did he ever once cry publicly over the loss of his infant son, Patrick?) LBJ couldn’t afford to look soft while playing hardball with Congress.

But then came Nixon. Tricky Dick did emotion, all right. He knew how to project self-pity all the way back in ’62, when, in his purported “last press conference,” he announced his withdrawal from politics, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” By the early 1970s, he projected anger and paranoia pretty well, too. Indeed, Muskie’s destruction can be laid at the feet of Nixon’s henchmen and their ratfucking.

Even when forced to resign in disgrace, Nixon controlled his grief – in public. His resignation speech was calm and even resolute. (You can listen to his speech here.) My ten-year-old self felt sorry for him as I watched it, and I distinctly recalled tearing up despite knowing he was a crook and needed to go. Disgrace and shame push my empathy buttons even when that shame is richly deserved. But Nixon held it together, even launching into a policy disquisition toward the end. The WaPo described Nixon’s public composure but also the gap between the private and public man:

Mr. Nixon’s brief speech was delivered in firm tones and he appeared to be complete control of his emotions. The absence of rancor contrasted sharply with the “farewell” he delivered in 1962 after being defeated for the governorship of California.

An hour before the speech, however, the President broke down during a meeting with old congressional friends and had to leave the room.

He had invited 20 senators and 26 representatives for a farewell meeting in the Cabinet room. Later, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.), one of those present, said Mr. Nixon said to them very much what he said in his speech.

“He just told us that the country couldn’t operate with a half-time President,” Goldwater reported. “Then he broke down and cried and he had to leave the room. Then the rest of us broke down and cried.”

(Carroll Kilpatrick, Washington Post, 9 August 1974)

Goldwater is yet another guy who’s hard to imagine weeping.

In the wake of Watergate, the whole country felt emotionally ravaged. We found respite in blandness: Gerald Ford’s good-natured bumbling and Jimmy Carter’s be-sweatered earnestness. But we did not find collective catharsis. That would wait until 1980.

The defining moment in presidential emoting came with the election of Ronald Reagan, who – though not much of a weeper – brought his entire actor’s armamentarium to the office. At the time, critics gleefully described Reagan as merely a “B-movie actor.” No matter. His acting skillz, modest as they were, earned him his “Great Communicator” moniker and enabled him to transform American politics in both substance and style. (Peggy Noonan had a hand in all this, of course, but her lines would have flopped, had Reagan been unable to fill them with warmth and passion.)

And yet, Reagan wasn’t much of a weeper. Serious presidential tears came into their own with the first Gulf War. International relations scholar Steve Niva views the end of the Cold War as a watershed in public political expressions  of hegemonic masculinity. Suddenly, General Colin Powell was weeping at his high school reunion. General Norman Schwarzkopf raved about his love for opera. In an America that had shed much of its Vietnam Syndrome through Rambo and Reagan, it became possible, Niva argues, for American masculinity to be both tough and tender. (See Steve Niva, “”Tough and Tender: New World Order Masculinity and the Gulf War,” in The “Man” Question in International Relations, ed. Marysia Zalewski and Jane Parpart (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), 109–28.)

The floodwaters sprung all the dams in 1992, as Bill Clinton teared up at every tale of woe on the campaign trail. He wept his way through his presidency, and we’ve never been the same since.

Niva’s excellent article explains just part of this transition. Reagan laid the groundwork. The first Gulf War expiated the shame of Vietnam and allowed American men to claim their manliness again as long as it was cloaked in khaki. But the “tender” part of Niva’s equation requires further explanation. Men like Clinton were simply of a new generation. They had defied conventional masculinity by growing their hair long, questioning the corporate rat race, fantasizing of careers in rock and roll – or at least playing the tenor sax on the Arsenio Hall Show. They had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out – or at least, they “didn’t inhale.” Perhaps most significantly, many men of Clinton’s generation had married a new generation of women. Some were feminists. A larger number were too timid for “women’s lib” but still warm toward egalitarianism. Most of these women expected and honored male emotion, though still within constraints.

The Boomers and subsequent generations are thus willing to grant our male leaders some slack in expressing public emotions, as long as it’s for a serious cause. Rachel’s clip shows how both Bushes and Mitch McConnell – powerful Republicans all – cry in public without losing face.

But none of them are crying about TARP. And that brings us back to Boehner’s tears, which are quite extraordinary even for a tough-and-tender post-Cold War leader.

Go to about 8:30 in Rachel’s clip. You’ll see him beg tearfully for the big-bank failout bailout known as “TARP.” He has subsequently attacked those who voted for it, conveniently forgetting his own damp-eyed support.

Rachel nails him for hypocrisy:

As Americans we react to someone crying about children’s welfare because we think that it implies strength of his commitment to improve children’s welfare. It doesn’t always. When the new congress convenes and John Boehner is Speaker of the House, remember this: just because he’s crying about something doesn’t mean he’s going to fix that thing. Crying in public is neat. I’m all in favor. Crying in public, however, is not the same thing as fixing the thing that makes you cry.

(This and the previous transcript via Business Insider.)

I, too, think hypocrisy is the most likely explanation for the cavernous gap between Boehner’s tearful public pronouncements and his Grover-Norquistian actual policymaking.

But there’s an alternate explanation, and it’s a doozy. A few weeks back, Gregory House, M.D. (the TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie, my next-husband-in-spe) had a patient whose emotional expression was the exact opposite of what most people would feel. The “case” was medically incoherent, but it nudged the two brain cells in my head where I’d stored the concept of pseudobulbar affect. I’d read about this phenomenon – the expression of inappropriate emotions – when I was diagnosed with MS. (New readers: that diagnosis was later overturned, though it’s still my sword of Damocles.)

So could Boehner have pseudobulbar affect? If so, there’s a short list of conditions that can cause it. Multiple sclerosis. Amyloid lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Stroke. Parkinson’s and Alzheimers’. Traumatic brain injury.

To put it bluntly: Pseudobulbar affect only occurs in a brain that has suffered considerable damage. If Boehner has any of the conditions I mentioned, he merits your sympathy and mine, no matter what his politics. But he also might not be capable of serving as the third in command. People can suffer from pseudobulbar affect without having impaired judgment. I’d want to be sure of that, however, and not just assume it.

I still lean toward hypocrisy and manipulative tactics as the most parsimonious explanation of Boehner’s tears. I just wouldn’t rule out brain damage.

Either way, I question his fitness for the office of Speaker of the House.

No word tonight on where Glenn Beck gets his waterworks. At least he’s not President – yet.

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Howard was a singular figure: a gay man in a tiny mid-North Dakotan town in the middle decades of the previous century. Courtenay had just under 300 in-town residents according to the 1940 census (trend: declining). It had lady elders running the Presbyterian church (first and foremost, my grandma), a general store, and plenty of orderly, hard-working, meat-eating farmers. Courtenay had its own grain elevator. It had various misfits and outsiders, most of whom my grandma befriended; some she even took into her home as boarders. What Courtenay didn’t have: a mate for Howard.

Howard, you see, was the misfittiest of the misfits. He was the only gay man in Courtenay and – we believe – for miles around. He did excellent work at the store. In his spare time, he perfected various housewifely arts: knitting, crochet, sewing, candy-making. Still no mate was forthcoming. It goes without saying that my grandma befriended him warmly. (Today she’d make a fine fag hag.) I was the greedy beneficiary of this, because he was still stitching up snazzy Barbie clothes circa 1970.

Howard didn’t get such a sweet deal. He lived an unpartnered life, alone (except for a few friends like my grandma) and I suspect celibate, until late in his days, when he went into retirement and moved to the next largest town, Jamestown. There, he met another like-minded and like-oriented gentlemen. Together they enjoyed their golden years.

Whenever I think of the joy Howard found in his final years, I don’t know whether to smile or weep.

His cream candy just might make you do both. It’s simple to make, though it takes some time and patience while you’re cooking it.


  • 2 cups evaporated milk
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla – be generous

Using a very heavy pot, melt the butter, sugar, and 1 cup of the evaporated milk until it reaches a boil. I needed to go pretty close to high heat to get the process started. Once you’re boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes and turn down the heat. You want to keep the candy at a boil for 10 minutes. If your heat source is too strong, you’ll see chunks of caramel begin to form at the bottom of the pot. That’s a signal to dial back the heat. (I saw enough of those chunks that I started frantically bailing them while stirring vigorously with my other hand.)

If you don’t already have a candy thermometer, an hour ago would be a good time to have bought one. If your candy is at a boil and you’re lacking a thermometer, corral a lover, roommate, or random wino on the street to buy you one.

When your ten minutes are up, add the second cup of evaporated milk, then go back to your stirring. You are aiming to hit a sweet space just above “soft ball” stage but still below “hard ball.” This will take a while – for me, perhaps 20 minutes? Once you think you’ve got the right temperature, remove the pot from heat. Let it cool for three minutes or so – not much longer or the candy will have reverted to solid. Beat it with a mixer on high, adding the vanilla and salt. Then smear into a pre-buttered dish. I used an 8 1/2 by 11 inch pyrex pan, but I don’t think this is critical. At this point, Howard’s candy will behave a bit like fudge. Let cool in the pan at room temp, cut, and serve! (If the pieces are super-sticky, you probably didn’t cook it long or hard enough. Expose them to air overnight.)

Serve to anyone who appreciate a good sugar confection with no nutritional value – unless you consider a good backstory to be healthy for the soul. Howard left this earth over a quarter century ago. If there’s an afterlife worth living, it surely includes his candy.

(I thought about trying to illustrate this post, but frankly, the candy is beige, and I’ve got nothing purty to decorate them.)

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I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe during this explanation of the new TSA policies:

(Go here if you can’t see the clip.)

It perfectly sums up the Homeland Security response:

Q: So why do I have to go through all of this?

A: 9/11.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

(But hey, what’s with all the questions? Don’t you know loyal Americans just do as they’re told? Have we gone soft since the heyday of that great American, Joe McCarthy?)

This snippet from Colbert includes some of those moments when Colbert’s parody is uncomfortably close to actual bigotry, and you wonder if the audience is laughing with or at homophobia. Ditto for Colbert’s use of “hermaphrodite,” which is exactly the term his character would use, but – ugh.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

Kudos to Colbert for raising a question that’s been bugging me too: What genius came up with the name “Rapiscan”?

Dave Barry complains in this NPR interview about finding out from the TSA that he’s got a dire physical condition: a blurred groin. Less jokingly, when host Melissa Block repeats the TSA line about the grope searches not being punishment for folks who opt out, Barry replies:

Well, I would say whoever wrote that it’s not punitive was not having his or her groin fondled at the time.

Jessi at The Sexademic has some satirical ideas on how to protest the searches.

Badtux the Snarky Penguin offers some darkly accurate new slogans for the TSA.

And finally, Daniel Solove at the legal blog Concurring Opinions shows us the fun to be had with a TSA Playmobile kit!

Sadly, the TSA Playmo set is no longer sold in stores, so you’ll just have to check out the rest of Solove’s wickedly wonderful post.

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My father has always kept guns. Like most men in North Dakota, he was a hunter. Indeed, during my 1960s and 1970s childhood there, you could hardly be a man if you didn’t own a gun. He shot deer, mostly to my mother’s dismay, as she recalls trying to deal with preparing the meat through the miasma of morning sickness. He shot duck and pheasant. We ate some of those. I remember having to pick out the beebees. My brother learned to hunt at his side. One of his early Halloween costumes was “hunter.” He was all cute pudginess and colorful shotgun shells. Even with my early pacifist stirring, I loved those colors!

Once our family moved out to California in 1979, hunting was relegated to a yearly trip back to North Dakota, usually timed so that the guys could partake of the annual community supper in Dad’s hometown. The guns remained. As time passed and we acclimated to a world where no one left their back door unlocked, Dad’s guns tended to gather dust even as his worries escalated. In this new, not-always-golden state, you had to fear crime – or so the media told us, relentlessly.

By the mid-1990s, my father kept a handgun in his nightstand. It was loaded. There were also murmurings about a loaded pistol under the driver’s seat of Dad’s car. When my first baby was born in 1999, these guns sounded like worse than a bad idea; they sounded potentially lethal.

‘Round about that time, my dad blew a hole in the carpet of his home office. He had taken a gun out of the locked cabinet (to clean it? just to hold it?) and pressed the trigger, certain it was empty. It wasn’t. Luckily for him, the carpet didn’t bleed.

This month, my brother will travel back to North Dakota with my dad, quite possibly for the last time. Their original plan was to hunt duck and pheasant. Then my dad started to skid away from reality; he started talking about shooting antelope (which don’t exist in central North Dakota). My brother decided he’d swap blanks for live ammo. Now, even that seems dicey, and he’s planning to plead a sore foot and avoid hunting altogether. Honestly, they’ll have far more fun just visiting people and eating buffalo meat with people my dad has known for decades.

As for the guns in his house, my brother spirited them away earlier this week, as I wrote yesterday. What I didn’t know until I spoke with my sis today: My father immediately noticed they were missing, before my brother had a chance to trot out the cover story about him “cleaning” the guns.

My dad called the police. He called the fucking police! They came to his house and took a report about breaking and entering and burgling.

This snafu will be straightened out. The police will learn that my dad is cognitively impaired before they pick up the “perp” (my dear brother, who may well have saved a life by removing those guns). They’ll have it in their records that my dad is non compos mentis.

What can’t be fixed: the fear. All these years, my father has stewed in it. Guns were his talisman.

It’s not true that the only thing we need fear is fear itself. We need to fear the combo of guns and fear. After a lifetime of relying on guns to keep the bad guys at bay, my father has no shield in the very moment when he feels most vulnerable. And yet, if he continues to have access to guns, odds are astronomical that someone will die.

I know plenty of people who are responsible gun owners. My dad was once one, too. But I think anyone who owns a gun would be wise to ask: What will happen as I age? Can I be sure I wouldn’t accidentally use the gun against someone I love?

Because that’s exactly the danger with my dad. He’s often confused enough that he doesn’t recognize his own wife. He could shoot her, or his beloved dog, or even his newly beloved cat. I know damn well he’s not the only aging gun-owner with too much exposure to Faux News and too little ability to cognitively filter real threats from those imagined.

Might we be wiser to find other ways while we’re still young to master our fears, however well founded they may be?

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I can easily imagine the impulse to chronicle one’s sex life in a diary. I can’t imagine turning it over to one’s friends. That’s what Karen Owen, a recent Duke grad did, except she framed her sex list as a mock honor’s thesis and sent it as a Powerpoint to three of her friends. One of them wasn’t much of a friend and forwarded it to, well, the whole world.

It’s amazing to me how an otherwise apparently intelligent person can still think that anything in electronic form is likely to stay private. Even I, who came of age when Facebook wasn’t capitalized and was a literal book, know this. Of course, it wasn’t just Owen’s privacy that was violated. Half of the baseball and lacrosse team had their privacy violated, too, through no fault of their own. She was utterly reckless with their privacy.

You can read all about it at Broadsheet and Jezebel, if you want the salacious details. I’m more interested in what’s not being discussed. First and foremost, Owen writes of an encounter (“Subject 5″) in which she was completely blacked out. This is normally considered to be sexual assault. Under North Carolina law, it appears to be second-degree rape:

A person is guilty of rape in the second degree if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person … Who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

It’s odd that neither Broadsheet nor Jezebel is calling this rape. Broadsheet doesn’t even mention it. Jezebel breezes past it:

With one subject, the author blacked out and doesn’t remember having sex, but doesn’t seem troubled, by her own account.

Owen doesn’t have a duty to prosecute it. However, a feminist website surely ought to call it by its rightful name. A situation where one partner is blacked out isn’t some “gray” situation. It is not marginal or borderline. It is sexual assault, period. That doesn’t change just because Owen seems to boast that “I had somehow, in my black out state, still managed to crawl into bed with a Duke athlete.”

I’m also surprised (though I shouldn’t be) at how gender is affecting the way people interpret this incident. Imagine if the genders were reversed. There’d be more feminist outrage at how the “subjects” were exposed to shame, instead of Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet saying the guys were “pantsed.” There’d be less unfeminist outrage – as expressed on the Today Show – that a girl did this. There’d be a lot more shaming of the “subjects,” who would also be at higher risk for desperate acts. We’ve all heard of young women and gays who’ve committed suicide after their sex lives were broadcast without their will; I haven’t yet heard of a heterosexual male doing the same. That still doesn’t make it okay to treat a guy’s privacy like a dirty tissue. Not even if he’s an alpha male!

To be clear, I don’t want anyone to be shamed. I don’t want anyone’s privacy to be violated. I’m just struck by the hypocrisy, and how it’s toxic to everyone involved.

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Clarissa posted this on her blog a few days ago, and I just loved it. I don’t quite think I can use it in my religion and sexuality class (it’s a bit too flippant) but I may yet change my mind.

In the meantime, enjoy some theologically accurate apostasy! Oh, wouldn’t NOM just love to teleport us all back to the Old Testament?

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

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(From ICHC, where every day is Caturday, a holy day of rest.)

So yeah, that ought to be just how I feel. The kids started up a week ago. Except once the kids were in school, I got inspired to de-grungify the basement, one of several sites of permamess in my house. Seriously, the EPA ought to extend its Superfund program to cover domestic permamesses. At the very least, I’m lobbying for a gas mask fitted with a top-notch HEPA filter.

What I thought was allergies from the basement turned into a distinct bug – and not one of the creepy crawlies that calls our basement home. It seems to be a wretched virus. The hallmarks of this dread disease: bone-deep aches, a ferocious sore throat, and vats of self-pity. No fever, so I’m inclined to rule out strep or flu. It could be worse: A friend of mine, hit by the same villainous germ, has comprehensive exams over the weekend for her doctoral degree in civil engineering. Oy. Join me in wishing her a quick bounceback.

As for me, when I’m not wallowing in self-pity (did I mention my husband is on a business trip until mid-weekend?), I’m stunned at how part of the basement has been transfigured. (Only “part” because the rest harbors box upon box of old baby and toddler stuff destined for a rummage sale and then ReUse Industries, our local indie thrift stores/charity.) It turns out you don’t have to eliminate every last hairy centipeds. Just vacuum up the obviously dead insects, and the basement no longer looks like a vault for the undead. We had house guests last night, and they were not repulsed by the basement. They were brave enough to sleep there. I even went barefoot down below without any obvious skin eruptions. (Yet.)

Tomorrow, I’d like to do the cat thing and aim for 14 to 16 hours of sleep. instead, I’ve got full schedule of apppointments. My plan is to guzzle Mountain Dew in hopes of finishing my syllabi (so close to done!) and maybe even writing a substantive blog post in between my other commitments. If I can’t fire up, though, you’ll know it’s not for want of trying. There just might not be enough Yellow Dye no. 6 in the world supply of Dew to revivify me.

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In my last post, which discussed the racism behind the conviction of a Palestinian man, Sabbar Kashur, of “rape by deception”, I promised to address the fundamental problems of “rape by deception” in a separate post. I deferred this for two reasons: First, I wanted to address issues of racism and purity separately (insofar as possible). Second, I intend the present post to be the second in a series exploring the issues around defining rape and sexual assault. Last winter, I began this with a post on the spectrum of sexual assault and the limits of the law, in which I concluded:

the law is a necessary but not sufficient instrument for transforming sexual relations. We need a feminist sexual ethics as well. To that end, I teach my students about the importance of enthusiastic consent. If they take it to heart, their chances of committing a crime ought to be nil.

And yet … there’s an area between sexual assault and enthusiastic consent. I don’t want to call it a gray area, because I don’t want to endorse the notion of “gray rape” (which is just a euphemism for defining acquaintance rape out of existence). Still, people are going to continue having sex under conditions of consent that’s defective or problematic or just lukewarm. We need to find ways to discuss this problem without either trivializing it or calling it “rape” or “assault.” In other words, we need a feminist sexual ethics that recognizes the complexity of social and sexual relations, affirms pleasure and autonomy, and emphasizes compassion and communication. “Yes means yes” is a good start, but it’s only a start.

(The whole post is here.)

After I wrote that post, life and work intervened to keep me from tackling the problems of defective consent, but I’d like to pick it up again now that I’m off from teaching and neither of my offspring has broken any bones lately. I think it’s crucial to find ways to talk about sexual violation that both respect the integrity of people who feel violated while also ensuring that the terms “rape” and “sexual assault” aren’t used in such inflationary ways that they become meaningless.

Jill at Feministe circumscribes “rape by deception” in a way that I thought (in my little non-lawyerly way) made loads of sense. She too remembered that case where a man impersonated his brother to extract sex from his brother’s girlfriend. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled it wasn’t rape because no force was involved. This incident, which occurred in a dark room where the woman couldn’t recognize the man, strikes me as precisely the sort of gross violation of consent where the law can and should intervene. The facts are clear-cut, the man’s intent was obvious, and the woman had no opportunity to offer or refuse reasonably-informed consent. So I agree with Jill that there is some place in the law for “rape by deception” or “rape by fraud.” Maybe you wouldn’t categorize it as a first-degree felony, but such conduct deserves to be criminalized.

However, once you move from cases such as impersonation to cases where someone tells a garden-variety lie, you’ve just criminalized 95% of the population. (Or maybe 99.999%)  I do not think it is noble that people lie and misrepresent themselves in pursuit of romance, sex, and love. But neither is it felonious. It shouldn’t even be a misdemeanor, legally speaking.

On the Feministe thread, a few people argued that since lying to a potential sexual partner undermines enthusiastic consent – or really, consent period – it should be criminalized. One commenter who’s a lawyer argued that it should be treated as a misdemeanor, since such lies are more serious than commonly-prosecuted crimes such as trespassing. I agree that lies – even glaring lies of omission – diminish consent. Where I disagree is on the proposition that the criminal justice system could offer appropriate remedies for this. (And as for the trespassers – can we stop prosecuting them too, in the absence of other crimes?)

In part, the problem is simply a matter of numbers: the prosecution of liars would give the U.S. a chance to build more prisons than schools (if we’re not already there yet). Some of the commentators at Feministe echoed Dr. Gregory House’s line: “Everyone lies.” A couple of people protested that they, personally, were always honest, but by and large, I think House is right. Consider online dating. Whether it’s OK Cupid or eHarmony or Adult Friend Finder, people misrepresent themselves. They exaggerate their height, play down their weight, puff up their job titles. They post a photo that’s a year old – or ten. Perhaps the only reservoir of honesty is on Chatroulette, where the naked dudes look pretty much exactly like themselves. ‘Cept they’re not looking to date you. I guess that, too, is refreshingly honest.

And it’s not just men who lie, exaggerate, misrepresent. Take your humble blogger, for instance. I know that when I met the man I eventually married, I didn’t say to him, “By the way, I’m still sort of messed up from my last boyfriend.” In my sexual past, I’ve misrepresented a few other things, including multiple failures to indicate clearly when I was not interested. These days, I’m not even on the market, and yet I own a couple of bras that overplay my actual assets. And that’s just me – a generally honest gal from North Dakota.

Of course, what’s at stake are lies and distortions that could be dealbreakers for a potential partner. Even there, the list is infinite. Would you rule out Republicans? Or only go for Republicans? Do you require gainful employment? Upward mobility? A yacht in the Mediterranean? Are you open to coupling with a trans person? Or would you freak out if your potential partner wasn’t cisgendered? Would you only sleep with someone with long-term potential, or would you rule out anyone seeking a relationship?

A law that criminalized garden-variety lies to potential partners would hit certain groups especially hard:

  • people of color – see the “War on Drugs” for millions of precedents
  • trans people, whose murder is still sometimes excused under the “trans panic defense,” and who already suffer from being branded “deceptive”
  • women whose partners assumed them to be virgins (as Alara Rogers argued compellingly at Feministe)
  • people with STIs, who do have a duty to disclose (in my view), but who would be discouraged from even getting tested
  • pickup artists (okay, my sympathy is lukewarm, but I still don’t want to toss them in jail)

So if we don’t turn to the law, then what? And how are we to respond to the very real feelings of violation that people feel when they’ve been deceived – feeling that are not limited to women, by the way?

I don’t think it’s wrong to spread the word to one’s friends and acquaintances about someone who has told a materially important lie. Politeness often stops people from doing this. Women, especially, are also likely to be deterred by the fear that no one will believe them (which runs parallel to the fears of rape victims), and by fear of slut-shaming. But if someone has behaved like a first-class jerk, we have no obligation to protect his or her reputation. I’m lukewarm on public shaming (as apparently occurs sometimes on Facebook, for instance), but in private conversations, there’s no reason to hold back one’s experiences.

We also need to educate young people – boys and girls alike – on the importance of asserting themselves with a potential partner and asking about those potential dealbreakers before they have sex. The major roadblock here is the difficulty people have in talking about sex, period. From my students, I get the impression that this is slowly improving, certainly compared to my generation. And we need to expose kids to enthusiastic consent as an ideal. Enthusiasm is a pretty impractical legal standard, but it’s an excellent social norm.

Actually, we need to get all those messages out to those of us in our middle years and beyond, too. (It’s just easier to reach kids, since they’re often a captive audience and they’re still more malleable.)

Finally, we also need to propagate the hope that more honesty in sex and courtship will help dismantle rape culture. We’re never going to get rid of lies. We can, however, hope to increase honesty. One way to do that is to reframe sex as a duet instead of a game of conquest.

As for how we respond to the sense of violation when a person has been deceived – well, there I diverge from most of the discussants at Feministe, including Jill, who said the woman in the case ought to be able to define her experience in whatever terms ring true to her. If that means she gets to call it rape, then I disagree.

First, if every person who feels violated or just emotionally hurt can call their experience “rape,” we move into the realm of metaphor. I’ve already argued that “rape” ought not to be used that way. It diminishes the actual offense. It also leads to sloppy thinking and to an elision of the difference between the legal realm and ethics. And frankly, ethics can help in these cases, where the law simply cannot.

Second, if a person claims the label of “rape,” she or he may seek legal redress. That quest will be doomed to failure if their experience has no correlation with the legal standard of rape.

Third, the bad guy in this scenario certainly deserve to have his (or her) reputation smudged. She or he does not deserve to be called a rapist, with all the attendant emotional baggage and social harm. That stigma is nearly as damaging as being convicted in court. (And no, this isn’t “what about the menz,” because women tell plenty of sexual lies, too, and anyway this is about basic fairness.)

So what can we do to honor those who’ve been lied to? Those who’ve seen a partner climb off them, post-coitus, and run straight for the door? Those who’ve placed faith in a faithless partner, or trusted their own heart too hastily?

We need new words. Maybe some of the old ones can be repurposed. In my last post, I described the accused as a “cad.” While “asshole” works pretty well, too, it doesn’t capture the specifically sexual aspect of assholishness that “cad” does. Some of the related words – scoundrel, fraud, even creep – don’t have particuarly sexual connotations. I’m curious if any of you have any better ideas.

Perhaps we need a notion of “sexual violation” to describe situations where dishonesty significantly interfered with a partner’s ability to consent. This wouldn’t be a criminal offense. It would be an ethical category. It would give the victim a way to understand her or his experiences as real, and important, and worthy of a caring response.

And we need to offer victims of sexual violation sympathy and support, instead of slut-shaming. I’m not so sure I could do that for the woman in the Kashur case. Her sense of violation was rooted in her racism. But most men and women who fall victim to liars and manipulators in sex do deserve our support. They should get it.

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In a recent interview at Salon, Cacilda Jetha and Christopher Ryan, authors of the new book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, conveniently tell us what sex is really like. They start with gay couples as their reference point, which is an interesting move, but then their theorizing goes straight down the Mars/Venus rabbit hole:

First of all, they’re both men, so they both know what it’s like to be a man. They both know from experience that love and sex are two very different things, and it seems that for women the experience of sexuality is much more embedded in narrative, in emotion, in emotional intimacy. But also it’s really hard to judge what women would be like if they hadn’t been persecuted for the last five or six thousand or ten thousand years for any hint of infidelity.

(The full interview is here.)

Nothing wrong with reversing the usual assumption that heterosexual couples are the norm and all other combinations deviant. This can help normalize same-sex relations, as well as shining a new light on heterosexuality. But Jetha and Ryan’s statement doesn’t do this. Instead, it’s swimming in oppositional sexism – the idea that men and women are opposites. It’s also traditionally sexist, in that it sets up a norm rooted in male experience, “know[ing] from experience that love and sex are two very different things.” Note that this compartmentalization is presented as knowledge, not as emotion, opinion, or preference.

It may well be true than on average, more men than women can easily separate love and sex. What to make, then, of the many women I’ve known who quite handily compartmentalize them? I know it’s possible, because I’ve done it (though I also couldn’t do it easily at this stage of my life). How are we to understand the men for whom sex is unthinkable, or at least quite hollow, ouside a context of caring and intimacy? I’ve known quite a few of those, too – more than enough to explode the dichotomy that Jetha and Ryan describe.

There’s a whiff of traditional sexism, too, in their last sentence, which positions men as a biological norm and women as different only due to the distortions of society. Yes, women have been persecuted and their sexuality brutally controlled by patriarchal forces. However, men’s sexuality is also molded by social and cultural forces, some of them highly repressive and cruel (see for instance the latest post in Richard Jeffrey Newman’s series on men’s bodies). It’s just silly to imply that men’s sexual desires and behavior simply reflect their biological drives, while women’s have been warped by culture.

At least in this interview (I can’t speak to the book), Jetha and Ryan appear to think that infidelity is mainly a male behavior. But how much do we really know about women’s capacity and propensity to be unfaithful? As I’ve argued here in the past, all those cheatin’ men have to be doing it with someone. Unless you accept the theory that there’s a huge pool of single women just panting after married dudes, it’s more logical to conclude that married/committed women systematically underreport their infidelity. In other words, women already engage in plenty of infidelity. By now, the impact of millennia of persecution is much reduced, in the Western world, anyway. We don’t stone women anymore for adultery. History casts a shadow of greater stigma on women who cheat, compared to men – and thus greater pressure to lie about it, even to researchers. Infidelity is no longer the province of men.

Regardless of whether monogamy is hard (it is), and regardless of whether women are naturally angels (we aren’t): Do we really want to work toward a new norm of keeping sex and love separate? Jetha and Ryan appear to be saying that since humans aren’t hard-wired for monogamy, the desire for sex-with-intimacy is not only confined to women, it’s also somehow aberrant. I’m not convinced. While I see nothing morally wrong with casual sex between two honest, enthusiastic partners, I recognize that getting to know a partner can enable wider arcs of pleasure. I’ve observed that casual sex with even a semi-regular partner tends to become less casual over time. Non-committed sex also has some built-in pitfalls that Lynn Gazis-Sax evocatively describes:

I also think that there are some drawbacks to having sex with people you don’t know well, that are worth talking about, and not brushing aside with “anything is fine as long as your both consenting.” Anything is not good if your consenting, and it’s fair to talk about why some initially consenting experiences turn out badly, as well as some turning out splendidly. Sometimes, the reasons those experiences turn out badly involve not knowing things about your lover that you might have found out if you’d waited a bit, or not realizing just how badly the two of you communicated, or overestimating your ability to be happy with more casual connections.

On the other hand … Sometimes it’s the relationship itself that’s bad, and those aren’t problems that are improved by making the sex more committed.

(Read the whole post here.)

In other words, sex can be toxic inside or outside of relationships. If “love” signifies manipulation, emotional indifference, or just a joyless shell of a marriage, of course sex won’t be any good either. And yet, we lose an awful lot if we assume that love always decays. Jetha and Ryan may well be correct that monogamy and decades-long love are not “natural,” but how much of our sexuality is merely “natural”? Isn’t it always shaped deeply by our culture? And even though we’re all creatures of biology and culture, don’t we all make choices – to be faithful, to tend the fires of lust over time, to value love – or not?

We lose even more if we replace the old imperative of sex-with-love with a new rule that’s simply its opposite. Because even if there’s nothing ethically wrong in principle with casual sex, in practice sex has the potential to be more rewarding with a partner who cares. If we don’t let it become humdrum, the rewards needn’t just be emotional either. Sex with a loving partner can be hotter – sexierwhen we dare to be to be our most naked selves. That’s not just a girly thing.

(Just because any post about sex and love deserves a flower. This one was blooming in my garden a few weeks ago. Photo by me, Sungold.)

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I know Ghana is still smarting from their unfair loss to Uruguay. I sympathize. Germany’s Kicker magazine’s take on it: Luis Suarez has been the World Cup’s best goalkeeper. (In case you missed it, Suarez is the field player who blocked a Ghanaian goal with his hand in the 120th minute – the end of overtime – with the ultimate result of Uruguay winning on penalty kicks. Suarez is blocked from tonight’s match due to the red card he got for so flagrantly breaking the rules.)

And yet, I’m still looking forward to watching Uruguay play the Netherlands, for two excellent reasons: 1) Uruguay has played really attractive soccer from the very start, when they tied hapless France in the tournament’s second game. 2) Uruguay has some really attractive players.

So here, in the tradition of Female Desire Week, are a few pictures of my two favorites, Diego Forlan and Diego Lugano. Forlan is the key to Uruguay’s offense, while Lugano is the linchpin of their defense (and captain of the team). Forlan is extremely intense – look at those eyes! Lugano appears calm and unflappable under pressure. They are both a pleasure to watch, even without the close-ups.

Am I objectifying these guys? Sure, a little bit, insofar as desire always has a subject and an object. But there’s a difference between saying someone’s sexy and sexualizing them – that is, seeing them only in terms of their sex appeal. These guys are too good at the beautiful game for their talent to be wholly eclipsed by their beauty.

Diego Forlan:

(photo source)

(photo source)

(photo source)

And Diego Lugano:

(photo source)

(photo source)

(photo source)

All photos have been shamelessly swiped in the interest of making the world a bit less bleak. I’ve linked to the source where I found them. If anyone objects to my use, I’ll sadly but promptly remove the image.

For more World Cup yumminess, see litbrit’s collection (which is more ethnically diverse than my two Diegos) and the series at Jezebel (here’s a good discussion of why looking at these guys is a harmless pleasure; try here for some lovely legs).

Just for good measure, here’s the whole Uruguayan team – plus two:

(photo source)

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It’s one thing to be contrarian; it’s another to be just plain ignorant. Or, as Nigel Tufnel says in This Is Spinal Tap, “There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” Camille Paglia had an op-ed on sex in Sunday’s New York Times. Guess on which side of the line she fell?

Paglia’s pretext for the op-ed is the failure of flibanserin (aka “pink Viagra”) to gain approval from the advisory panel of FDA. Really, though, this is just a platform for her to rant about a supposed “sexual malaise” that’s plaguing the U.S.:

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm. …

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

… The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

(More of the same here.)

Ahem. For a scholar who wears her erudition so gaudily, Paglia shows an abysmal grasp of the history of gender and sexuality. First, anyone who’s read Foucault’s History of Sexuality realizes that the Victorian era wasn’t only about repression. Discourses of sexuality proliferated, creating new identities (“the homosexual”) and planting lots of naughty ideas in people’s minds.

Those “intriguingly separate worlds”? They were a product of the self-same industrial revolution that made men and women virtually interchangeable in the factory before we made the shift to mind-based work. Separate spheres were only ever achievable for a small minority of middle-class, white men and women, anyway. Within those middle classes, mystery didn’t reign so much as a discourse of shame that demonized both men’s and women’s pleasure, as Richard Jeffrey Newman persuasively shows at Alas! a Blog:

Sexual pleasure undermined a man’s ability to compete in this marketplace of manhood in two ways: First, as Graham, Kellogg [of the crackers and cereal, respectively] and others made clear, such pleasure constituted unadulterated self-indulgence, a characteristic precisely antithetical to the kind of man a self-made man was supposed to be. Second, the expenditure of sperm—and the thinkers of the nineteenth century saw ejaculation quite explicitly as a form of spending—was a waste of energy that a man could have, and should have, been putting to more productive uses elsewhere.

(Do read the whole thing; unlike Paglia, Newman won’t waste your time.)

For the working classes circa 1850 or 1900, never mind separate spheres – they were lucky if they could have separate bedrooms. From the children, that is. I don’t know about Prof. Paglia, but I don’t know too many people whose notion of a sexay time includes a bed full of children on the other side of the room. For a real bonus, throw in a boarder or two, no running water, and perhaps a few resident species of rodentia.

Ironically, the most recent apogee of separate spheres was the 1950s, which Paglia denounces for their priggishness. Plenty of couples who steamed up their car windows at the drive-in theater might beg to differ. To the extent people managed to get in on in the back seat, it was in spite of the ostensibly separate spheres of men and women – not because of them.

As for pre-industrial sex? Well, there was oodles of mystery in the “agrarian” world, as long as you perceive a lusty  difference between plowing a field (men’s work) and mucking out a stall (usually women’s work, at least in early modern Europe). O ho, that’s what the postmodern American libido lacks: the erotics of cow manure!

The farther back we go, the rosier Paglia’s nostalgia. Shakespeare’s era certainly was ribald, as we know from his plays. We also know from Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process (vol. 1: The History of Manners) that folks were also much more relaxed about bodily hygiene. And by “relaxed,” I mean that Europeans of the 1500s and 1600s would deliberately make their body odor more pungent. Also, pooping anywhere was okay. It was doubtless a super sexy era if coprophilia is your thing.

And then there’s one little detail that changes everything. You don’t need to be a historian to suss it out, either, because its advent falls within Paglia’s lifetime, and mine: women’s prerogative to say no. Paglia must be intentionally obtuse in failing to mention it. Echidne parodies this brilliantly in her take-down of Paglia’s op-ed:

Instead, give me the old Italian countryside, with haystacks and a violent rape of a peasant woman who really does like it after the bruises fade. Because sex is violence and violence is sex and all women like to be at the receiving end of that violence.

Except, of course, Camille Paglia.

(Another post to read in full, srsly.)

Exactly. Paglia can have the chastity belts, crowded beds, and literally shitty hygiene of the past. I’ll take the twenty-first century, which, for all its ills, offers birth control, hot showers, and the chance for a passionate yes – precisely because I’m free to say no.

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(Slacker husband kitteh from ICHC?)

While looking at pictures of sexy soccer players, I accidentally ran across a Woman’s Day article titled “The Husband Whisperer: 4 Tricks to Communicating with Your Man.” Besides reminding me why I’ve never bought a copy of Woman’s Day, it also convinced me I’ll never make a good husband whisperer. Not that I’m perfect in communicating with my husband – far from it! – but I’m instinctively leery of any approach that assumes a husband (or horse!) needs to be trained. Here, the goal is to train him to do what you want, when you want it, especially when it comes to household tasks. Oh, and he’s supposed to do it enthusiastically (unlike the surly Basement Cat pictured above.)

Credit where it’s due: The first tip, “Always say please and thank you — and touch him when you do” is less obvious than it might appear on its face. And it’s a good one. When you live with someone, it’s oh-so-easy to let basic manners slide. And touch is a great way to de-fang conflict of any sort – not just over housework. Touching can be pretty helpful in the midst of an argument, assuming your partner isn’t too pissed to let you close. (I’m not talking about sexay touch, just a hand on a forearm or shoulder.) My only gripe is that the example given is so stereotypical: taking out the trash.

The second tip, “Lead by example,” is one you’ve surely tried if you’re neater than your partner (or roommate, or children, or …). If it only worked, there’d be no demand for articles like this one. This tip is predicated on the idea that (some) men are household slackers, and women are all sticklers:

Why is it so difficult for a husband to swab the deck? It’s simple: Some men just aren’t that into cleaning. “Women see dirt and feel the mess that men don’t see or feel,” explained psychotherapist Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, who, with psychologist Neil Einbund, Ph.D., leads the Making Marriage Work courses at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Hold on! At my house, when it comes to doing a cleaning job right, it’s frankly my husband who shines. Not I! Yes, I spend more hours on housework, but when he does a task, it’s like fairy dust was sprinkled on that area of the house. It sparkles. My goal is usually more modest: keeping the health department at bay. Sure, in a majority of couples, the woman typically has higher standards. But honestly, how many male partners will respond warmly to an in-home impersonation of Martha Stewart?

So I called my husband back into the kitchen. Lifting the saucepan, I pointed to the dried-up pools of soup. I could see by his bemused expression that it never occurred to him to look under the pot. “I know you’re tired, but I want to show you what works for me,” I said, as cheerful as an infomercial. “I just spray a little of this cleaning fluid on the spill, wipe and voilà!” He looked at me as if I had just performed a mindfreak. “What’s that you use again?” he inquired, much to my own amazement.

Not only did he continue to use the product I suggested, he now regularly cleans under pots, like a little boy exploring the dark rooty underworld beneath a rock. It may seem like a small victory, and the results aren’t always perfect, but little things like this are a giant step for my peace of mind.

If I were that fake-cheerful, I think my husband might prefer to crawl under a rock, himself. I wouldn’t blame him.

The third tip – “play the empathy card” – isn’t all wrong. The author suggests explaining that certain jobs are hard to do because we little women are smaller or weaker. I don’t think that’s totally illegit. My husband has a good six inches on me, and he can easily reach the highest shelf without rearranging furniture. He’s always willing to schlep tubs of laundry down to the basement. I’m secure enough in my feminist cred that I can simply be glad for a pragmatic division of labor based on our different strengths and abilities.

But again, why should empathy be confined to stereotypical tasks and qualities? Some days, my husband’s back is making him miserable while mine is just a little creaky. Or maybe he has a late evening meeting. Why shouldn’t I make his life a little easier by taking out the garbage? Empathy works a whole lot better when it swings both ways. Otherwise, it’s just pity.

The fourth and final tip is the pièce de resistance, and oh, I bet you saw it coming: “Reward good behavior – the sexier the better.” The expert cited puts this in its most innocuous form, though it’s still problematic:

“Reward your husband for completing a task by doing something you both enjoy, like dinner and a movie,” Alpert suggested. “Women often find men who are good husbands and fathers sexy, so the hint of an even greater reward in the bedroom will almost guarantee success.

Sure, when the work gets done without one person bearing most of the burden, there’s more likely time to have fun together. The problem, though, is couching the bedroom (but not the dinner/movie) specifically as a “reward” for him, not for both partners.

And it gets worse. By the end of the article, sex has become wholly transactional:

I let my husband pick from several chores I wanted to hand over, then I told him about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (sex!) that would be waiting for him if he handled that chore for the next few weeks. Intrigued, he chose homework help.

To my amazement, after dinner that Monday, he didn’t have to be reminded about our deal. “Can we do the homework now?” he asked eagerly. “After iCarly is over,” I said, reminding him of another deal we’d struck with our seven-year-old for one hour of TV chill time. When the two of them finally headed off to hit the books, I luxuriated in an extra hour of me-time. And how did my husband respond later? Let’s just say he enjoyed it so much that he decided to extend our deal!

And how did our author respond later? She doesn’t have any obligation to tell us, of course, but the article ends here, with the utterly clear implication that sex was a prize for her hubby. It’s something she gave him, not a shared experience. The author could’ve tempered the transactional framing without getting into TMI. She could’ve just said: “And for me, it was a win-win!” or something blandly wink-wink-nudge-nudge.

Instead, the article ends with pussy as commodity.

I agree that housework is a serious issue. Spats over it harm marriages and other long-term relationships. Its unequal distribution continues to hold back women.

But seeing sex as something women give up in order to entice their mates to supervise homework? How, exactly, is this different from paid sex work? How is it better? How will it foster more mutual pleasure (as opposed to just more frequent sex)?

How is it liberating for women – or men?

Also: Can you imagine the parallel article in a men’s magazine, “How to Be a Wife Whisperer”? I’d call it out for manipulativeness just as much as I did this piece. It’s unlikely ever to exist, because the work of that hypothetical article is pretty well covered in women’s magazines. But if it did exist, you can be pretty sure its ending would be the mirror image of the one in Women’s Day – with the twist that it’s the man convincing the woman to lead him to her “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. (Pot of gold!!! How ’bout we just say honeypot and be done with it?)

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