Men Talk Articles - October/November 2014
© 2014 Nels Otto
When I asked the coordinator of youth and campus ministries if he would be interested in some men's perspectives on the Our Whole Lives book I thought it would amount to just a few verbal comments. When I revisited the book and checked out some references, it turned out to be more complex and involved. Because of this I am choosing to share some of what's been written on the subject from other than a feminist view.
Feminist views are a start but they don't tell the whole story. The men's movement (Masculist) isn't as strong, well organized or well funded (some estimate the difference in resources going into women's issues to be in excess of 100 times that going into men's) so we hear almost entirely one perspective which can lead to biased thinking. It's in that vein that I approach this. I don't present views that I consider the final word but do feel they have significance and be given honest consideration. My intent is to open doors and windows of communication and understanding. Much better relationships will be forged when men are fully engaged and fully heard in discussions of gender, equally with women. Not to do so is to fall into the historical men's societal imperative: hold your feelings in; suck it up; take it like a man.
"There is the state of being out of touch – out of touch with areas of my body, with nature, with other people, with other aspects of my personality. And there is such a state as being stuck in what I am in touch." "And this is true of most of the people I know: they stay pretty much within one chamber of their being." (Hugh Prather)
"If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know all we can about each other, and we have to be willing to go naked." (May Sarton)
Men have long been socialized to repress their feelings and stay silent. Many are so good at repressing their feelings that they have a hard time identifying their feelings, much less expressing them. Several have stepped forward and given voice to their feelings, issues and perspectives as men. It is different from what women have been saying; men's experience is different. We are also not accustomed to hearing men express them and can be uncomfortable and resistant to hearing them; what you hear may contradict what you believe. It is time for us to get unstuck, to go naked (not liberally!), to be open, receptive and vulnerable to each other. We should not shrink from looking critically at what we believe strongly in.
Speaking up for men doesn't make me anti-woman. That is far from the case. I've been an enthusiastic supporter of egalitarian feminism for many years. I don't support what some have called a feminist orthodoxy with little tolerance for other viewpoints. I believe in mutuality in addressing gender issues.
The courtship/dating dance is a fun activity that often has anxieties and misunderstandings. Going on dates, exploring relationship possibilities includes exploring the possibility of sexual activity at some point. Even in this time of liberation men are expected to take direct initiatives, women indirect initiatives by making themselves attractive and available. Women have the freedom not to initiate directly, but relatively few do so. Both flirt. A ritual that is found in most romance novels is handsome, successful man pursues beautiful woman of lesser means. She resists, he persists and finally he wins, but she feels she wins also and they live happily – how long we usually don't know.
This is Harlequin Romance formula which, in the early 1990s, the average woman who read romance novels read twenty per month, about twice as many as in 1983. Forty percent of all American paperback sales are romance novels. The number of women who read romance novels is approximately fifty times greater than the readers of Ms. Magazine.
Sarah Bird writes in "Rules of the Game," Entertainment Weekly, August 1991, "Reader's letters, focus groups, surveys and sales enable Harlequin editors to keep their fingers on the pulse of their audience. This information is passed on to writers as guidelines. If you want to know what's up with many women, you could do worse than consult the rules of the romance writing game."
The young women who take this class may not read romance novels or have romantic fantasies – or maybe some do? – but very likely both men and women will be dating people who have some sense of this type of romance and may even have some of this themselves. There are degrees to which people integrate this model, but in this age of equality it has its drawbacks.
Our sexuality is a gift. We can embrace and celebrate it or we can load it with fear and suspicion. For men it is a gift and privilege to appreciate the beauty of women's bodies. That gift and privilege also engenders a strong sexual energy and is a big part but definitely not the only reason we want to be close to women – particularly a special woman. Women, your sexual attractiveness is a gift, a privilege by virtue of your genetics as a woman. You did not have to earn it. It was given to you. It gives you significant power in your relations to men. As with any power both of these powers must be used respectfully. Men's sexual attraction to women is part of what motivates men to pursue women. In our culture the strong emphasis on success in all aspects of life carries over into men and women pursuing each other. Is this possibly too much of a good thing?
Women's sexuality and desirability is also held in high regard in our culture. Women's bodies are constantly dangled in front of us in advertising and the entertainment media which has the effect of enhancing the demand for them and gives them more power than they already have. Men's bodies, on the other hand, are rarely used in the same way in advertising. the tension between these two forces probably does not need this kind of enhancement.
In the materials the Feminist statement that rape is the result of political and economic power imbalance of men over women is repeated. Others state it is a result of the feeling of sexual and relational powerlessness by men. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that any black man is three times as likely as a white man to be reported as a rapist. That would mean that blacks have (much) political and economic power than whites, which is clearly not the case.
On the subject of the meaning of no and date rape, one of the statements in the Our Whole Lives book says, no means no. It also states that one-third of the women in a survey said they did not mean no when they said no. these are contradictory. No means no is a short political statement about social and policy changes that fit an ideology. It does not deal with the intricacies and depth of analysis needed to develop constructive policy. It is also not the result of collaboration by both men and women. As Earl Holt states in a sermon given at Unity Church March 13, 1977, "The politicization of thought becomes not an aid to thinking, but a stumbling block because it closes us off to some ideas; it limits us." Ideology and reason are very uneasy partners. When no means no is stated as rule by feminists, it is given as an absolute and as such it is a hierarchical statement of dominance and power. It does not reflect the reality experienced by many or most in today's dating world.
You cannot change reality by proclamation. one cannot presume to speak for others, anymore than they can presume to speak for you. No can be confusing and very ambiguous and begs for more complete communication. ambiguity can be very controlling and intimidating – keep the other person guessing.
Does no mean, no, not yet? Try again? If so, in a few minutes, the next date? No, I have to seem respectable? No, but I really want to? No, I want you to squirm? No, I'm in charge. No, I'm afraid I'll get pregnant? No, I have superior morals?, No, you have to do more to earn it? No, wait till I initiate? No, this is a test to see if you are strong enough to stand up to me?
A woman is expected to control her sexual urges because she knows that being too easy will give her a reputation that she does not want. So she holds in these feelings until, in some instances, they become so strong that the dam bursts, so to speak, and she engages in sexual behavior when she originally did not want to. After it is over and she is no longer aroused, there can be considerable dissonance in her feelings about what she did compared with the standards she was trying to maintain. Men can experience this also, but their hold on their sexual feelings is not as strong. What are the pro's and con's of these two different standards in today's world?
The double standard of respectability doubtless resulted at least in part to men not knowing if they were the father of a woman's child, so respectability of the female was very important to him. With DNA testing today, paternity can be established so that double standard should diminish and equality of respectability take its place obviating the reason for a "no."
Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young in their well researched and scholarly work, "Legalizing Misandry," state that sexual intercourse is most often the result of mutual consent, and seduction is by definition clouded by ambivalence making date rape much harder to define than that which occurs in dark alleys. Seduction is as complex, subtle and ambiguous as human nature itself, which is why it has been explored by poets, philosophers and theologians. They go on: ambivalence is at the heart of all sexual relationships. A woman might want intercourse but fear it even though there is protection against pregnancy and disease.
It is also important for men to take responsibility for birth control. If an unplanned pregnancy results, he has no legal rights to decide if he wants to be a parent; she has the right to do that. That also means enforced child support payments for eighteen years. It is a very vulnerable position for a male.
The statement near the middle of page 121 in Our Whole Lives, states "whether they have carefully avoided potentially dangerous situations or not...you are not the cause of abuse." That is, they, women, are always innocent; the other party is always guilty. Abuse is not defined. Human relations are not so neatly defined either-or, black-white, in reality. Camille Paglia, an independent thinking feminist says (paraphrased), while men must behave honorably, women must also watch how they dress and behave. For every gross male harasser, there are ten female sycophants who shamelessly use their sexual attraction to get ahead (and to attract men). The proper mission of feminism is to encourage women to take personal responsibility without running to parental authority figures for help.
"I can wear anything I want" does not take into account that how women dress has an effect on men. It stimulates men sexually-physically. It is biological. Her actions basically say, I can stimulate you as much as I want, but it's up to you to control and suppress your feelings. This ignores that everybody has a "breaking point," and that varies from person to person. Choosing to stimulate men is one step (generating attention and interest) towards sex – look at my luscious.... This is akin to driving with the brakes. Wouldn't it be more useful to let up on the accelerator – to stimulate less? This would doubtless go a long way toward reducing unwanted behaviors. Remember, just as there are all kinds of women, including those who use their dress, body and sexuality to elicit a powerful reaction from men, there are all kinds of men, including those who respond more strongly because of what they have been taught or because they have been abused. Even though most men do not respond that way, it behooves women to think about those possibilities when they decide how to dress.
Also, how one dresses is the first thing others see; it gives a first impression, a very strong impression. Provocative dress is a sexual invitation, not necessarily to have sex, but to related activity, like flirting, which can later lead to kissing, etc. Very few if any acquaintance intercourses occur without a progression of interactive behaviors. Women have significant power to get attention and a response from men by how they dress. This power must be used respectfully. They are responsible for choosing their clothes, how and what they want to communicate with their dress. The more provocative the outfit, the stronger the sexual message.
I can wear anything that I want eliminates the need for a woman to control her behavior, her internal noes. These noes are then redirected at the man in "no means no." It expands her behavioral options and restricts his. How can equality be achieved in this area?
How one dresses also impacts how one feels. Wearing sexy clothes makes us feel sexy. How we fell has an impact how we behave. When we feel sexy, we are much more likely to act that way. The energy released in men in response to provocative dress and that released in wearing it can be quite electric!
I don't go to "biker bars" dressed in ways that call attention to myself, drink until my judgment is impaired, and engage in controversial discussions/arguments with people who are also drinking and have impaired judgment. These are all my decisions and my responsibilities. If I do make any or all of the above choices, I significantly increase my risk of getting beaten up. I am responsible for the choices I make unless I am a vulnerable adult or a child, in which case I need to be protected. To say I can behave in any way I choose, and if something bad happens to me it is entirely the other person's fault is not taking responsibility for my own actions. David Kudtz, in his book, Nothing's Wrong, a Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings, says, with the externalization of your feelings (words, actions, behaviors) you are responsible and accountable. There are many things in life in which we take calculated risks. Life is not risk free. Responsibility takes those risks into account. I bear some of the responsibility if I get hurt.
As was said earlier, we live in a culture where success is highly valued. It is valued by men and by women in the men they are attracted to. The expectation and realization by young men that they have to perform, to be successful to attract love, really ramps up as males pass through puberty. Some say this is a significant factor in the incidence of male suicide, going from equal to that of females prior to puberty to being four times as frequent after puberty.
Success involves hard work, meeting many challenges, and overcoming obstacles – the noes. The more successful the individual is in overcoming obstacles (noes), the more successful he or she is likely to become.
Roy Phillips, in a sermon given November 4, 1979, "Taking 'no' for an Answer," wrote:
You don't get more by asking for less! You don't get more by settling for "no." Childhood is filled with "no." But he or she is always testing. Life flows around, through and over many noes impelled always by an inner "yes." The world rewards this – no doubt about it. Successful movers and shakers who don't take no for an answer are often richly rewarded. Getting past noes is a whole way of being that pervades much of what we do in our culture. It is a significant factor for the success of our species and in the advancement of culture. If at first you don't succeed.... [Note: not sure if I have interpreted the extent of this quote correctly, TBB]
Women also reward men for getting past their nos – if they like him, if he qualifies. If they do not like him they can punish him severely by charging him with date rape and ruining his life. This is a huge amount of power her hands and carries a commensurate amount of risk for him.
it has been said more than once that the skills needed to be successful in a relationship are very different from those to be successful at work, even counterproductive. Collaboration, compromise, open honest communication, give and take are essential in relationships but not in the same way or degree in competitive work environments. Women who are attracted to successful men will have two different requirements of the man – one in his work and another in their relationship. Men will also have to deal with this in successful women, but success in a woman is not nearly the attractor to men as success in a man is to a woman. The attraction of women to successful men is historical. The attraction of men to beautiful/sexy women is also historical. Both women and men are acting in traditional/historical ways to the degree they are attracted to success in men and beauty in women. Awareness of this and good communication will hopefully lead to respectful relationships. Use noes as opportunities for deeper understanding and not as power struggles.
When one person wants to and the other does not, and a no is issued for anything from going out on a date to kissing and other sexual activities, it is a veto. The compromising is coming from one person only. When one person gives and the other demands their way repeatedly, the relationship is virtually assured to suffer. Rejection hurts. Often these feelings are stuffed. It is at least in part a personal rejection and, at most, a deep personal rejection. In the materials it states that no does not mean she is rejecting you – just your behavior at that time. Behaviors are expressions of feelings. Feelings are very personal. Noes are rejection of those feelings, and it is felt and personal. Saying I am not rejecting you, just your behavior, is separating you from your feelings, another way of saying "don't feel." When that type of hurt is experienced repeatedly, a protective shield develops. Through that shield men cannot see women for who they fully are. It inhibits his feeling of the full range of his feelings, and in its place a protective distance develops. Intimate relationships were not a high priority for survival at earlier states in human history. For the intimacy and closeness most of us long for today, this is not a good model. the power of no has to be exercised responsibly and with consideration. Remember men are human and have feelings even though they often are not expressed.
Consider more on nonverbal communication, how we act and behave and how we dress and groom ourselves. Studies have shown that communication happens 7% to 35% of the time through words, depending on the situation, and 65% to 93% of the time without words. Nonverbal communication takes place through facial expressions, eyes, touching, tone of voice, dress, posture, and spatial distance. For clear communication, they all need to say the same thing. If a verbal no is followed by a behavioral yes, shouldn't the last communicate what you really mean? Experts say if verbal and nonverbal messages disagree, the nonverbal will win. Nonverbal behaviors cannot be controlled as easily as spoken words. Also, the validity and reliability of verbal messages are checked by nonverbal actions. The saying "actions speak louder than words" is very true. "No means no" denies the reality of nonverbal communication. Stopping at a verbal no, when she is saying yes non-verbally is breaking the laws of communication.
When no, either verbal or behavioral, is followed by a behavioral yes then followed several "passionate" minutes later by another no, which is followed by more passionate behavior, intermittent reinforcement is taking place. Behavioral psychologists tell us that behavior intermittently reinforced is very hard to extinguish. If it continues, it strongly shapes persistent behavior. If no is really meant, it needs to be consistent, not interspersed with yes. We do not want our own ambivalence to inadvertently reinforce persistence if it is not wanted.
There is often persistence in the pursuit of love. It is part of the unwritten rules of the game. Women expect men to persist and continue to initiate through various stages of dating and courtship. If he doesn't do this, she will reject him. He isn’t following the “rules” of the game. At some level, she evaluates how well he does this. These standards vary dramatically among women, and techniques and behaviors vary among men as well. Persuasion is a response to a no. If there is no persuasion nothing will happen. If there are no noes, there is no need for persuasion. Persuasion is basically about getting someone to do what you want them to do. Women also persuade – so men will pursue them! How? Sexy/attractive dress, flirting, teasing, responding positively to overtures. Perhaps these behaviors are biological.
When persuasion becomes coercion, it is crossing the line. When persuasion is called coercion, it is also crossing the line. If persuasion is then equated with rape, it is casting a very broad net. Buying a woman a drink, can be persuasion, but it is not forcing her to accept it, or drink it, or to drink too much; it is not coercion.
Nathanson and Young also point out that the extent of rape statistics depends on how rape is defined and on who defines it. Expanded definitions of rape are referred to as linguistic inflation. The word rape has been so inflated semantically and loaded politically that it is virtually useless in a scholarly work. Rape needs to be defined and laws made consensually by reasonable men and women, not by overly enthusiastic advocates who want to make "women as victims" political statements.
When a man is pursuing a woman, he is not just looking for sex. He is pursuing the whole person. Doubtless there are exceptions. Sexual activity is a natural part of intimate relationships as they develop. When the sexual part is restricted, it becomes more important, a little like food becomes very important to a hungry or starving person. It creates a distortion, which makes it more difficult to see the whole person.
Warren Farrell in his book, Why Men Are the Way They Are, feels a more ideal solution would be resocialization. In this, Women would initiate directly as frequently as men, from initial introduction, asking for dates, to, ultimately, intercourse. This would lead to less tension, conflict and more understanding of the other's traditional role and experience.
Resocialization would probably be a good thing. How to do that is beyond this paper, but aware couples could discuss this and try it even though it is not universal behavior. Adapting to resocialization is just as important for men as women. Both will probably have to work hard at the new model.
Just as men have had to share political and economic power to the mutual benefit of men and women, so to women sharing sexual power in resocialization will be to the benefit of both. This would be equality. A relationship in which strengths and power are shared rather than used for persuasion or bargaining is certainly progressive.
The decisions we make about our sexual activity also depend upon our state of arousal and whether our judgment has been altered by alcohol or drugs. This is no less true for men than it is for women. Our thoughts and feelings the morning after or in a courtroom are not infrequently different than they were at the party or on a particularly intimate date.
If consensual sex took place the night before and feelings are different the next morning, did rape occur? If so who raped whom? If it is assumed that it is always the man, isn't that sexism? Men should be aware that some states have such laws in place. It violates constitutional "equal protection under the law" but men are being prosecuted under this double standard. Punishing the other person for your disappointment, remorse, and anger at yourself for your own behavior is not ethically and morally defensible.
There is synergy between the different types of stimulation and other behaviors – drinking, partying, flirting, dancing, etc. The effect of two or more factors interacting is greater than simply adding together the effects of the different factors. Chaos theory tells us that when there are a number of interactive and synergetic variables, it is not possible to predict with certainty or guarantee a particular outcome. This unpredictability of an outcome makes it impossible to isolate a specific cause or assign specific blame. Blame can then only be assigned arbitrarily or politically by prejudice.
At some point in the stimulation progression, sex assumes a power of its own in both men and women. It is nature's power. And it is strong. When it becomes strong enough, we cannot change our minds about how far we want to go and willingly go further. Neither is persuading or forcing the other at this point. It is so hard to stop when you are feeling soooo... good. Stopping earlier in the sequence is the answer. Know where that is for you and communicate it both verbally and nonverbally. This is very important.
Dan Ariely in his book :Predictably Irrational” reports on the results of a study he conducted in which participants were asked what sexual behaviors they would engage in before sexual arousal and after they were actually sexually aroused in the study. The “magnitude of underprediction by the participants was substantial. Across the board they revealed in their unaroused state that they themselves did not know what they were like once aroused. The reptilian brain takes over. Prevention, protection, conservatism, and morality disappeared completely from the radar screen They were simply unable to predict the degree to which passion would change them.” ”In the heat of passion, we are all in danger of switching from just say no, to yes in a heartbeat.” “ We must teach teenagers that they must walk away from the fire of passion before they are close enough to be drawn in.” Adults could heed this as well. Demanding that men be held solely accountable for the behaviors of both in an aroused situation when neither the woman or the man is biologically able to control themselves is unreasonable and draconian.
When a woman says yes the night before and no the next morning, her communication becomes untrustworthy. Did she really mean yes? Can I really trust her? This undermining of trust is very harmful to building a relationship and poses dangers to the man if she then accuses him of rape. What is needed to complement "no means no" is "yes means yes," an affirmation of what I communicate verbally and nonverbally and will take responsibility for it.
Warren Farrell states that the problem with every judgment of sexual behavior after the fact, is that it is made by people who are not being stimulated as they are making the judgments. Asking a woman what she wants and then assuming everything else she does is the responsibility of the man is insulting and demeaning to the woman and to the power of sex. "Date rape" can be a crime, a misunderstanding, or buyer's remorse. This true for both men and women, though women are rarely accused or prosecuted for date rape.
An article in the Journal of Sex Research based on a study that asked broad-based questions of men and women states researchers were astonished to find that 94% of men and 46% of women said they had experienced unwanted intercourse. If unwanted intercourse is used as a definition for rape, which some advocates do, thus increasing their statistical numbers, this means that more men have been raped than women! We probably need to question that definition of rape. For both men and women, saying no followed by behaviors that also say no, as difficult as that can be, is essential. Your believability will go up dramatically! Get into a vertical position, go to the bathroom, stop kissing, go out for coffee, or whatever.
What does having sex mean? For the individual? For the relationship? At times it can be the deepest level of expression of love, it can be a statement of commitment, it can be fun and playful, it can be serious, it can be a duty, it can be relaxing, it can be a compromise, it can be wanting to please, it can be creative .... or all of the above. It also can be a test of sexual and even emotional compatibility. Add to this that first time, and even second or third time sex, can be awkward and nervous, and you have quite a mix. There are no easy, simple answers.
If you think that sex is dirty or immoral outside of a committed relationship or marriage, your feelings will be different than if you believe sex is normal and healthy. How do we arrive at our beliefs?
On the bottom of page 124, it states "traditional men," those who believe they are dominant over women, are more likely to commit acquaintance rape. Christina Hoff Sommers in her book, Who Stole Feminism, contends that American society is exceptionally violent, and the violence is not specifically patriarchal or misogynist. The U.S. Department of Justice reports in International Crime Rates that crimes of violence (homicide, rape, robbery) are 4-9 times more frequent in the United States than in Europe. The United States crime rate for rape was seven times that of the average of Europe. The incidence of rape is many times lower in countries such as Greece, Portugal or Japan, which are far more overtly patriarchal than the United States.
Most men are taught to protect women, to take care of them, and to please them. Spreading the notion that men are wolves in sheep's clothing lurking everywhere waiting to pounce is simply not the reality. It raises fears in women and dehumanizes men unjustly. Dehumanization is another step closer to "we can do anything to men and it doesn't matter." It is a "less-than" position.
Frederick Matthews, in his report, "The Invisible Boy," writes, "Much of the current thinking and discourse about abuse and interpersonal violence is based on a woman centered point of view, as a result of who has been doing the advocacy." Although there is a gender dimension to sexual violence, simple theories of male socialization aren't adequate to explain why the vast majority of males are not violent. It is time to stop demonizing all men because of the bad behavior of relatively few.
I have hope that it is possible for our separateness and our misunderstandings to be overcome. There are no easy answers to the questions and issues addressed in this paper. But the answers we develop cannot come from women and feminism alone, but from men and women, feminists and masculinists, and those in between, reweaving the tapestry of relationships to one that is functional today, that respects men and women and meets the needs of both. It is what democracy is all about.
To paraphrase President Obama, it is easy to point fingers. If we see conflict only from one side or the other, we will be blind to the truth. The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met.
Nels Otto has a long term interest in men’s issues and before that, women’s issues and the human potential movement. It led him to change careers from banking to counseling. He’s a retired vocational and rehabilitations counselor, and a long term member of the Men’s Center.