“Real men”, plus “hyper” and “toxic” masculinity…

rmdbg A few weeks ago on my birthday, after watching Godzilla with a friend, downing a few drinks and engaging in critique of the movie’s gender politics, discussion turned to the assumptions underlying, or inferred by, a number of terms. Specifically we discussed the terms  “real men”, “toxic masculinity” and “hyper-masculinity” (all while my friend’s copy of “Demonic Males” slowly emerged from her handbag). First, I’ll briefly address the “Real Men Do/Don’t…” meme that’s recently been going around.


Don’t get me wrong, “buying girls” is shitty behaviour of a high order, and should be strongly campaigned against even if only because people are not objects to be bought or sold. View just technically, before suffering gets taken into consideration, this is a compelling justice concern.

My objection isn’t with this side of the equation at all, rather my problem comes from the part that ascribes the relevant agency to “real men”. What the fuck is a “real man”? (That’s a rhetorical question).

Others have made critiques on the basis of the inferences the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign makes about gender roles, and they are critiques that I generally agree with, however I’ll be addressing another problem.

It’s pretty obvious that most people using the term “real men” aren’t arguing that the concept of “men” is more than just a useful fiction in the philosophical sense, nor, obviously, are they arguing that men who buy girls don’t have existence. What they are implying, if not plainly stating, is that objectively “this (not buying girls) is an essential criteria for being a man”.

This is more or less true for all the other instances of the “real men” meme. You can perform a Google image search to find that other essential criteria of “Man” are argued to be the ability to grow their own scarves, to be able to shave with chainsaws, to abstain from quiche, and other such nonsense. Adelaide band The Beards, performs a line in pseudo-ironic, hipster sexism along much the same lines…

Because it’s original and edgy, because sexism hasn’t been around since… the dawn of history… (3:49)


You can see how this kind of terminology is a problem with only a little thought experimentation.

Say you have before you, an adult randomly selected from the population of people who have been arrested, charged and sentenced for buying one or more girls. Picture them in your mind. Is it conceivably possible that their sex is “male”? Is it conceivably possible that they self-identify, gender-wise, as a man?

If it’s even logically possible for the answer to these questions to be “yes” (and it’s pretty obvious that this is highly likely to be the case in the “real world”), then we have problems when it comes to the wording of the campaign in question. The statement “real men don’t buy girls” is in contradiction with the evidence presented by these scenarios; here you have men who buy girls.

Either we are in error about the offender’s gender and sex, or we are wrong in assigning certain characteristics to the class “Men”; i.e. either “real men” do on occasion, buy girls, beat wives, and so on and so forth, or they don’t, and the people who do these things are… who or what exactly? If they aren’t Men, then what are they?

More importantly, how do you decide, in a non-arbitrary manner, what constitutes an essential gender criteria, or do you instead, like some folk, avoid trying to objectively define other people’s gender all-together?

Speaking practically, this issue can be side-stepped if different rhetoric is chosen by the people designing these campaigns… “Men who buy girls should be policed more aggressively” or “children should not have to live with the threat of being bought by men”, for example.

The fact that all this mess can be side-stepped with so little effort on the part of campaigners, all without compromising on the message of the campaign, means that there’s really no excuse for getting it wrong.

Admittedly, not all men may find this language comforting, unequivocal as it is about the acts of particularly rotten men. But I’m not in the business of consolations. If you want that, I’m sure Alain de Botton probably has a bromide of one sort or another to sell you.


(Now if at this point, you’re complaining that this is all just an exercise in semantics, it’s possibly because you’re bigot, or at the very least, the kind of person who doesn’t like to consider the consequences of what they communicate to the world around them. Why you’d even be reading this post in the first place then, is a bit of a mystery.)


The problems associated with essentialism and gender don’t stop there though. Earlier, I mentioned the “Real Men Grow Their Own Scarves” iteration of the meme.

Taken only a little bit seriously, this is clearly ridiculous. Are you really going to suggest, that because someone cannot grow a beard sufficient to function as a scarf, that this, and this alone, disqualifies them from being a man?

No, you wouldn’t? Perhaps it’s just a harmless joke, right?

Allow me to extend this further with another small thought experiment.

You encounter someone who identifies as a trans-gendered male, who may or may not have been designated the sex of female at birth, and they are unable or unwilling to grow a beard sufficient, by your standards, to act as a scarf. Are you going to acknowledge and treat them as a man?

If your answer is “no”, you’re a transphobe. Congratulations.

Of course, being precisely this kind of asshole to transgendered folk isn’t the worst kind of bigotry they are subjected to, and somewhat less so is naively enjoying Internet memes about “real men” and beards. However, you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of harsher forms of transphobia that aren’t also based on gender essentialism, whether that essentialism takes the form of tropes about “real men” or “real women”, or not.

By using the language and logic of gender essentialism, the “Real Men don’t buy girls” campaign feeds into transphobia. Indirectly, perhaps, but almost inevitably once the logic and language of essentialism takes a hold of the way we talk about gender.


This brings us back to the matter of “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity.

Given events like the recent Isla Vista shootings, back to the less-recent serial killings of the Hillside Stranglers, or the all-too-familiar skews in statistics like those for domestic violence, and all the chest-beating, pigeon-strutting,  violence-signalling, late-night-posturing bullshit that goes along with it, it’s hard not to view the terms “toxic masculinity” and “ultra-masculinity” as pointing to substantive cultural phenomena. And without entirely discounting the role of the biological, I don’t have any great problem in acknowledging that these phenomena exist as cultural phenomena, and that they, as cultural phenomena, present obviously serious social problems.

However, both of these terms do more than just point to the phenomena they are primarily intended to. They carry other inferences, and baggage, in much the way “real men” conveys more than anti-child-exploitation campaigners may intend.

The concept of toxicity is one where something specific, at a certain level or concentration, becomes harmful – what then, about masculinity, is specifically the part that becomes toxic?

Similarly, “ultra-masculinity” implies the ability to measure a quality, or qualities of masculinity, such that their exaggeration can be noticed above and beyond “normal” levels. What exactly are these qualities, and what makes them a part of masculinity, such that masculinity in general, necessarily infers them? Or put more succinctly, why are these qualities essential to masculinity?

“Toxic” and “ultra” masculinity don’t come out and say it, quite as much as does “real men”, but gender essentialism is implied by the choice of words.

If you’re not a person who has a problem with gender essentialism, the problems posed by its logic, or the consequences of its ideological offshoots, then you’re obviously not going to have a problem with these terms. Again, one wonders why such a person would even be reading this.

And I guess that in addition to this, if you’re also feminist, that having these words in your lexicon still isn’t going to be an issue. In this matter at least, you perhaps count yourself as being ideologically in the company of the likes of Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer. It’s not my place to tell you who or with what ideas you must affiliate, but I can make observations.


I’m not asserting that the phenomena that “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity point to entail gender essentialism, but rather that through baggage and inference, the language does. If you’re the kind of person who seeks to avoid gender essentialism (i.e. not a “TERF”), while criticising misogynistic culture, then I think you’d possibly be the kind of person who’d want to keep the concepts, but ditch the language.

Examples of how the rhetoric of “toxic masculinity” could contribute to transphobia don’t immediately come to mind, but the logic would seem to leave it open to such a possibility. The idea of “ultra masculinity” on the other hand, through the simple idea of men being able to be more objectively belonging to the class “Men” than others, present obvious exclusionary potential I don’t even want to speculate about.

(It shouldn’t need pointing out that the logic in all of this sets a precedent for/necessarily implies essentialism along the lines of “toxic” and “ultra” femininity, and “real women”, with all the potential for re-enforcement of archaic gender roles and trans-misogyny that comes with it).

Stated outright, “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity, like “real men”, despite what people’s intentions may be, are still rooted to varying extents in patriarchal language*. How much of a problem you take this to be is up to you, but for my part, I’m not ambivalent about it.

As of yet, I don’t really have a handle on any neologisms that could act as substitutes for “toxic” or “ultra” masculinity that wouldn’t also generate a good deal of fruitless confusion. I’m stuck with expending extra words each time I want to talk about “harmful interpretations of masculinity” or “patriarchal culture” or “misogynistic ideations” or “rape culture”.

Usually this entails just being clear, at length, about the matter at hand, but the loss of useful-if-problematic terminology isn’t something to be overlooked either; conversations can get bogged down or driven into rhetorical side-alleys without specific technical language. The word-smithing continues.

~ Bruce

* Patriarchies, and patriarchal cultures, being essentialist themselves.

Don’t mention the manifesto…

supreme gentleman Another young, middle-to-upper class man has allegedly gone out in a blaze of indignation, taking a crowd of innocents along with him. And already, we have the interested parties, sifting through the news, trying to find something that disconfirms their enemies’ claims, or to dismiss, without much in the way of reason, inconvenient facts about politically charged violence.

This, seemingly without regard for either the victims, or future, potential victims of the same phenomena.


Like other alleged, young, middle-to-upper class killers, Elliot Rodger has left behind a manifesto.

According to reports, Rodger wrote a 137-page tome, presented by email to his own mother. And Rodger was quite clear and candid in expressing his motivations, in the now infamous ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’.

He’s the true “Alpha Male”; it’s women’s fault they didn’t find him attractive; “it’s an injustice [his not getting fucked]”; he’s the “supreme gentleman” (aka Nice Guy); women are things to be possessed… and if we fail to recognise these ideations as truths, Rodger will annihilate us, for we would surely have had more sex than him, or been an unpliable member of the wrong gender…

This is what Rodger flatly and plainly tells us, and it is littered with precisely the kinds of misogynistic ideations we see time and time again, online; the kinds that feminists have been warning us about for years.

And the responses from the usual quarters?

There are other factors the feminists are excluding – This is the stub, the base from which the other deflections grow. Yet you’d be hard pressed to get hold of a representative sample of feminists claiming that misogynistic ideations in isolation are the sole cause of misogynistic violence.

Also, we don’t always disregard manifestos in other instances of violence; are we for example, now to treat Anders Breivik’s manifesto as entirely irrelevant to his terrorism? I’m sure this would suit Pat Condell and Geert Wilders fans just a treat, but what about the rest of us? Are we going to measure the significance of a manifesto, or just ignore it?

What he needed was a therapist – Therapy and mental health care in general, are great things, but supporting them doesn’t oblige you to view all incidents of violence as preventable by therapy. Case in point; Rodger had a therapist.

He was probably just autistic or an Aspie – Autism doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, and often doesn’t even coincide with it. If you’re going to go down this road, then please demonstrate how autism is a reliable predictor of killing sprees, or at least save the speculative pseudo-science for another audience. Aspies and Auties have enough crap to put up with without the generation of even more stereotypes. Also; Rodger wasn’t autistic.

“Mr Astaire said Elliot had not been diagnosed with Asperger’s but the family suspected he was on the spectrum, and had been in therapy for years. He said he knew of no other mental illnesses, but Elliot truly had no friends, as he said in his videos and writings.” – Emphasis added.

(Joe Mozingo, LA Times, 2014)

It’s the general Zeitgeist of the thing… 1984…Orwell! TAKE THE RED PILL!!1! – Please, I’ve had enough.


I almost forgot that particularly vile meta-criticism: Feminists are only pointing out the misogyny of Rodger’s manifesto to drive page hits! Outrage bloggers!*

Allow me to reply in kind…

Online misogyny is the stuff of loyal readers – provided you keep online misogynists wanting to like you. If you manage this, without giving enough of your contradictions to wedge them, you’ll have a loyal base, albeit an insular one, quite possibly with a limited future.

Every now and then, you’ll have to throw them a bone, and it will help if you accompany this with cries of victimhood when you’re inevitably criticised for it. In the case of Rodgers, the task is to deflect from the content of his manifesto so that MRAs, and associated haters-of-women, don’t have to relate too strongly with his alleged killings. Because let’s face it; politically, the points of the MRAs and of Rodger are very, very similar.

These are people who deny hating women while simultaneously blaming women for being raped, so you can imagine the cognitive dissonance caused when someone who is essentially one of their number allegedly puts political thought into action through murder.

My own turf, for this particular phenomena of apologetics, is among secular/atheist/humanist types, where people are generally happy to ascribe religious-ideological motivations to the 9/11 hijackers. These are also circles where there is a misogyny problem, and an MRA contingent, and a number of self-serving individuals willing to throw bones.

Now, if you’ve ever considered the manifesto of the 9/11 hijackers, or that of (again) Anders Breivik, or Timothy McVeigh, or a Papal encyclical, or any other political document, as being in any way motivating, you’re rather obligating yourself not to dismiss the content of Rodger’s manifesto out-of-hand. This I think is essentially a good way of spotting which ‘side’ is peddling the bullshit in this matter.

If you were to on the one hand, criticise a Papal decree, or a fatwa calling for violence, and yet on the other, dismiss the misogyny of Elliot Roger’s ‘Retribution’ as immaterial, then you’d be outing yourself as a hypocrite. You’d invite queries into your motivations, if not provide evidence for conclusions to be made.

Sure, it’s highly unlikely that any of the manifestos we’re talking about, in isolation, are entirely responsible for the actions of their proponents, but this isn’t what we’re talking about. What we are talking about is the categorical denial of the role of the manifesto, and in select cases (i.e. where politically convenient).

My assertion is that if not out of pure fear of being attacked by misogynists, then people are dismissing the idea of misogyny as being in any way causal, in order to appeal to misogynists, or to undermine the critics of misogynists for other political or personal purposes. While it may be intellectually dishonest, it is, it has to be confessed, probably a good way for crummy public speakers, and writers, to get gigs.

Some people love that shit.

~ Bruce

* As it happens, my blog posts on the topic have almost always been failures if judged in terms of internet traffic. If I’m supposed to get hits from “outrage blogging”, they are yet to manifest.

A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.


Continue reading “A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…”

In Dawkins’ Honour?

Dawkins - photo by Marty Stone Over much of the past two years in political circles, a slew of polemics have been argued, over the online harassment directed at women. Even the list of more recent incidents spawning these debates is expansive; the harassment of feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian; the viral video of Prime Minister Julia Gillard criticising Tony Abbott’s relationship with misogyny; the multiple waves online of chauvinist vitriol directed at amongst others, New Statesman columnist, Laurie Penny, and so it goes.

A heavy reliance on the Internet for communication leaves atheist and free-thought communities, especially in the US, potentially wide open to abusive interaction, whatever the disposition of their constituencies. One could go into great detail discussing the event that saw the crystallisation of the phenomena in secular circles online; “ElevatorGate” in 2011. However, I’ll try to be brief.

In 2011, atheist, sceptic and feminist blogger, Rebecca Watson, in the middle of a YouTube video post, pointed out that it wasn’t a good move for guys to introduce themselves at 4am, in an elevator, asking a woman to “…come to my hotel room for coffee?” Initially, this mild comment prompted a series of alleged and mostly unrelated grievances to be aired by Watson’s detractors.

Then Prof. Richard Dawkins entered the fray with his now infamous “Dear Muslima” commentary, sarcastically deriding Rebecca Watson’s supposed lack of perspective; Muslim women were being treated like dirt the world over, while Watson complained about guys in elevators. Imagine it as Dawkins’ take on “First World Problems”; very dry, at least a little truculent, and with a hint of unstated grievances.

What followed was an escalation in online abuse; “she’s too ugly to rape”; “I hope she gets raped so she knows what real abuse is”; “if I’m ever in an elevator with her, I’ll cop a feel”; “…Rebeccunt Twatson…”. And of course, there have been the ever-present images depicting feats Laurie Penny would likely describe as “sphincter stretchingly implausible”. This torrent of vitriol rapidly engulfed other targets, all while maintaining the same intensity of malice and irrationality.

Possibly the most sinister act amongst all of this, was an incident endured by Amy Roth in 2012.

The Slymepit”, an Internet cesspool of vex and loathing, dedicated to attacking Rebecca Watson and fellow travellers, was to temporarily play host to the publication of Amy Roth’s home address. Despite an allegedly public source for such personal information, you have to ask; what was the implied, suggested use for Roth’s home address, being posted at such a forum?

The individual posting Amy Roth’s home address, one Justin Vacula, coupled this act to a claim of “censorship” at Roth’s instigation, on account of her filing of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim on a particular photo of hers, and only the photo, to be withdrawn from a post of his authoring. As of writing, Vacula’s description of the exchange, published at the Southern Poverty Law Centre listed hate site, A Voice For Men, fails to accurately describe all the relevant details (i.e. that the article was not in fact, “censored”).

But aside from the obvious, what has any of this got to do with Richard Dawkins?

To simply state that abuse has followed Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comments, ergo Dawkins’ responsibility, would be an instance of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy so loved by reactionaries. As far as I can ascertain, Dawkins has offered neither tacit, nor explicit endorsement of the mentioned abuse. Rather, from “ElevatorGate” onwards, it seems often to be a case of overzealous Dawkins fans appointing trolling duties to themselves.

Still, at a time when men are increasingly being called upon to decry misogyny, sexism and online abuse, Dawkins’ continuing silence on a phenomena situated so close to him seems difficult to defend. This silence, coupled with the abuse, and coupled with the behaviour of a number of enablers, at least to my addled mind, seems only to serve the wrecking of communities, intentionally or not.

In response to the outbreak of online abuse, and a series of incidents at events, a number of free-thought organisations in the US have made steps to implement harassment policies. It’s been no secret that Dawkins’ sentiments oppose these moves for mostly unarticulated reasons. Maybe it’s a case of bonobo ethology romantically adapted to Homo sapiens, or perhaps more likely, it’s that Dawkins objects on the grounds of identity politics.

However, such policies aren’t a reflection on the behaviour of the broader godless constituency – they prescribe courses of action for when things go wrong, as happens from time to time in all human communities. The existence of a harassment policy no more defames a community, than laws against murder condemn a society as being particularly murderous.

Last year I covered the Global Atheist Convention for Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies and Wheels, although at the time I left something out of my coverage; an incident where my eyes were flecked with the spittle (and possibly the mild ale) of an atheist academic, who ranted amongst other things, that he’d always oppose bullies.

Said academic, a self-confessed Dawkins fan, despite his supposed anti-bullying advocacy, has thus far failed to call the harassment of Rebecca Watson, Amy Roth and others for what it is. Yet what he has managed to decry are concerns over a campaign to fund Justin Vacula’s presence at this month’s “Women in Secularism 2”, held by The Centre For Inquiry in Washington D.C..

My spittle-spraying former acquaintance isn’t alone amongst intelligent, academic, Dawkins fans in adopting this double standard. Weirdly, there’s an attitude even amongst a small set of atheist academics, that somehow they’re doing Dawkins a favour. It’s as if they harbour fantasies that fame and book sales will rain down upon them, if only they enable Watson’s harassers.

It’s not like Dawkins hasn’t been pressed for more substantive contributions to this debate, or even with questions about his mere awareness of the existence of the torrents of abuse. I’ve sources who’ve done as much, with little success in the way of obtaining answers, and Dawkins has publicly squelched such lines of inquiry, such as during a Q&A session at the University of Miami in September of 2011.

I was able to discuss these concerns with Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director of the US branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. She was aware of the mentioned instances of harassment, expressing displeasure and dismay.

I raised the issue of serious chatter arising out of a polarised climate amongst organisers, that suggested that Dawkins was using his influence to have Rebecca Watson barred from events. Dr. Cornwell assured me this wasn’t the case.

Whichever way one decides to interpret these contrary claims, one thing is indisputable – there‘s a lack of trust within secular circles, born of online harassment during the past few years. This conflict is ostensibly being driven by an unknown number of self-appointed zealots, and their enablers, acting in Dawkins’ honour.

Whatever Dawkins’ intellectual or personal differences with Rebecca Watson et al., it wouldn’t undermine him to explicitly state that he doesn’t welcome the online abuse of his opponents. Dawkins may retort that this is in fact obvious, however this wouldn’t seem to hold for those who need to hear the message the most – a number of his more enthusiastic fans.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Marty Stone).

Missed memos?

Okay, so I’m not an insider among the alleged Freethought Blogs cult, nor have I commented extensively on the dramas surrounding the blog network, but I like to think that I’m at least in some sense in touch with goings on. I still read a lot of these blogs, I still talk to people, I still ask questions and I’ve even got a few special sources.

But for the life of me, when some people hit publish, or open their mouths on podcasts and YouTube videos, I keep feeling like I’ve missed a memo or three.

Look, I have a raft of reasons for not wanting to use the ‘Atheist +’ label, mostly relating to its Americentrism, its effective class-blindness, its under-acknowledged class privilege and its aggressive identity politics*, how all these interrelate, and how this gels with my reasons for being an ‘out atheist’ in the first place. However, I’m often left gobsmacked when it’s claimed that the FtB/Atheist+ crowd…

  • … Want white people to feel guilty for being white.
  • … Want men to feel guilty for having a penis.
  • … Are ‘…trampling on the rights of several other demographics’ (video).
  • … Are at risk of bullying their ‘victims’ into suicide.
  • … Are Stalinist/Maoist/Pol Potist/Nazi/Stasi totalitarian propagandists.
  • … Advocate Puritanism at atheist conferences.
  • … Claim that the atheist community is more sexist/misogynistic than the Catholic church.
  • … Paint ‘ElevatorGuy’ as an attempted rapist.
  • … Yadda, yadda, yadda…

I’m not bushwhacked by just any allegation; if people want to allege a specific instance of bullying with supporting references (e.g. Greg Laden v Justin Griffith); if people want to argue that language is more mutable than a lot of FtB bloggers argue (with citations); if people want to pick apart Rebecca Watson’s recent material criticising evolutionary psychology (with references); if people want to argue things like Jason Thibeault’s apology to DJ Grothe not being sincere (with linkage), I’m not going to dismiss them out of hand.

But all this poorly sourced, paranoid horseshit (e.g. follow the above link to see and listen to Al Stefanelli talk about ‘trampling on rights’), just leaves my head spinning. ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ – that’s supposed to be close to being a mantra amongst us mob.

When people make these kinds of wild accusations without ample (or any) supporting evidence, I tend not to believe them. In fact, I tend to gravitate towards quite different conclusions.

I tend to suspect, that for whatever reason, some part of the people making these allegations, harbour the attitudes towards themselves that they are attributing to others.

White people who accuse people of trying to make them feel guilty for being white, actually feel a bit guilty for being white; men who feel bad on account of owning a penis, aren’t particularly happy with their penis ownership; people who accuse feminists of being puritans, actually feel insecure or guilty about some aspect of their own sexuality; people who worry that we atheists may be seen as being as sexist as the Catholic church, may actually suspect that we may be that sexist; people who defend ‘ElevatorGuy’ against allegations of attempted rape, see something of the rapist about him, and people who see conflict as potentially precipitating suicide, harbour suicidal thoughts.

This is in these cases, what I venture, what I suspect. I also suspect that these people are looking for someone else to blame for having experienced these feelings.

Yeah, it’s cod-psychology, I know. But is that any worse than a heap of hysterical accusations, thin on supporting evidence?

I’m used of people being smarter than this. The ‘debate’, such as it is, is out-of-the-blue in its unprecedented capacity to disappoint. I’m getting more and more pissed off.

I do expect better, and more so of people in privileged positions.

~ Bruce

*Please note: ‘aggressive identity politics’ has a specific meaning. Any wonk worth their salt will understand, so I’ll not be spelling it out. Consider it homework if you aren’t familiar with the concept.

The flip-side of the ‘woman as sex dispensary’ attitude

Preamble: My apologies in advance for apparent hetero-cis-centrism – the discussion I’m adding to is largely hetero-cis-normative in as far as I can see, and in as far as I feel qualified to comment. This post focuses on a specific attitude of heterosexual men and their enablers, with bad attitudes towards women and sex, although there are permutations of the issue that could involve other, broader and/or less defined ranges in the gender/sexuality continua. A lack of explanation in these respects is not intended as exclusion or detraction (snippets of non-cis-hetero anecdotes and wisdom are welcome in the comments).

Allow me to wax cod-philosophic, folk-theoretic about sex.

There’s an attitude that goes by various guises, names or none, is usually espoused by self-pitying men and their enablers, and has features and flaws that would seem obvious except for the myopia of said self-pitying men. It often manifests in opinions such as…

‘Women have all the power in sex.’

‘She only has sex to get what she wants.’

‘Ladies deliberately attract men, then rebuff them capriciously.’

‘You have to do X,Y and Z to flick whatever switch it is in her brain that makes her serve-up sex.’

‘I’m not going to be bullied by a woman who wants to control me through sex!’

‘I wouldn’t “obsess” about sex so much, if she didn’t obsessively withhold it from me!’

‘She just wants me for my money/assets/status, and not my mind [nor apparently, for fucking’s sake].’

In short, women ‘dispense’ sex for whatever (usually Machiavellian) purpose.

There’s a lot to take issue with in this attitude. First and foremost – in as far as women ‘dispense’ sex, they’re free to; it’s their body.

However, in addition to the more obvious objections, there’s a flip-side; a double standard to this bizarre attitude towards a woman’s supposed ‘sexual capital’; we see men viewing women’s sex as being withheld with a purpose, in a sense, to increase its purchasing power – more diamonds, more money, more men grovelling, more control, more man-pain. We don’t see these same men applying the same logic to men who withhold sex from women, as if sexually active women couldn’t possibly desire sex for what it is.

This, beyond any kind of Puritanism that views female sexual desire as somehow dirty.

These men view a woman’s sexuality as a commodity of a sort, but are slow to place a value on their own, presumably because it’s an uncomfortable prospect just thinking about thinking about it. When it comes to what women want, sexually, a back-handed defence of the male ego metastasizes into some kind of categorical imperative.


When women turn down sex with a man, they deny themselves a sexual interaction just as much as they deny their prospective partner. In as far as refusal can say anything about what women bring to the bedroom (such as the ‘price’), it also infers a value for what men have on offer as lovers.

Fellas, perhaps she just doesn’t want your sex, now, or ever. Perhaps she’s not holding out for a new necklace or a set of earrings.

Maybe she doesn’t trust you to be around her drinks. Maybe she doesn’t trust that she’ll be safe around you. Maybe she doesn’t trust you’ll be a good fuck.

Hell, maybe you’ve got a six-pack, a nice smile, and all the moves and stamina to boot, but the prospect of it being you makes the sex unattractive. She’s not objectively bound to realise all of your allegedly profound qualities, even if you think that makes her ‘shallow’. (Perhaps you don’t know a thing about what she likes, ‘shallow’ or not).

Maybe she doesn’t like small (or average) cocks. Maybe she doesn’t think your hands will spank well. It’s her paraphilia if she’s got one, and she can like what she wants. It’s her body. It’s her.

(And guys, please. Don’t wrinkle up your nose, or complain about your sore jaw at the mere mention of cunnilingus. When you do that, you look like the archetypal man-child who won’t eat his broccoli or the crusts on his sandwiches.)


I don’t care so much, just how biologically predisposed we may be to this kind of attitude – how bound up in culture is it, that women are seen as the dispensers of sex?

How big is the challenge, if people are to take this issue on?

Aside from objectifying women more generally, specifically, the ‘dispensary’ attitude denies their sexual desire. The flip-side of this downplays (or doesn’t) what men have to offer (and in a sense, is implicitly sexually degrading for men).

Any comprehensive challenge would seem to entail telling self-pitying hetero guys to stop whining, and to start considering what they bring to the table (bedroom/loungeroom/kitchen floor/etc.), sexually speaking.

Yeah, maybe it is too small – for this one lady. There’ll be others. No harm, no foul.

Perhaps guys, you’re unattractive to her. Again, there’ll be others. (Although health and hygiene are worth considering on their own merits, as is personality).

Maybe, men, you do cum too fast. Perhaps you should learn to deal with your anxieties more productively, or perhaps just be less selfish.

Or maybe, guys, you’re selling yourself short. Why wallow and mope if this is the case? That’s just sabotaging yourself (and leads to a future, if you’re not already there at the end of the journey, where you only become more unbearable an asshole). Indeed, why wallow and mope if you’re not selling yourself short as a lover?

How often is self-pity a good, healthy thing, or attractive?


Is the idea of a heterosexual woman, just one, someone, somewhere, seeing a guy’s cock for the first time as she unzips his pants, and finding it beautiful, such that her eye’s light up like she’s unwrapping a present at a particularly happy Christmas, so unbelievable?

Is the idea of women, losing themselves physically in the company of a man, almost ingesting him in a rhythmic, intoxicating embrace, so beyond imagination?

Is the idea of a mutual sexual consent, where beyond just saying ‘yes’, both lovers have sexual treats on offer for one another, so bizarre or counter-intuitive? How could it be so? Isn’t just the prospect of anything else being the norm just a little bit insane? Isn’t the status quo as it stands on the matter, just a little (or more than a little) bit balmy?


Looking at the population of the planet, patriarchy not withstanding, shouldn’t it inspire just a little bit of scepticism in people when it’s universally (or near-universally) alleged that everything but sex is a motive in women’s minds when women have sex?

I’m more than a little sceptical of the intellectual honesty of men who make these claims, I feel sorry for people who truly believe them or have to deal with the consequences, and I’m opposed to the unthinking  perpetuation of the belief, either as the direct, universal discounting of the extent of heterosexual female sexual desire*, or as its corollaries.

~ Bruce

* Or the extent of non-hetero, non-cis sexualities.

Merde melancholic…

The campaign against my dysthymia goes on. The ‘ups’ are more frequent, and on the whole, the norm. However, they’re differentiating from the ‘downs’, so much so that I’m starting to get an idea of what circumstances precipitate my occasional bouts of depression.

Not surprisingly, these are for the most part, things that touch tangentially upon topics I’ve raised before. In the interests of my sanity, and your patience, I’ll try not to be too repetitive in this catalogue of frustrations.

Allow me to regale you with a few observations…


Excessive self-regard. In 2003, I took part in the protests against the Iraq War, not because I thought that Saddam was alright, not because I hate America, and not because I thought it would match a bohemian wardrobe. Truth be told, my father was in palliative care at the time, and died quite soon after – I had other things on my mind.

So, taking time out from seeing my father, to attend to something else I thought more immediate and serious, what did I come across?

I remember this horrid, rent-a-crowd lady, appointing herself as the natural leader of a newfound throng of protesters, instigating an impromptu ‘Altogether now! All we are saying…!’ I’m glad to say that rather than enable her self-importance, those in earshot were in an appropriately sombre mood, and rebuked her celebratory command with stern expressions.

Indeed, this is actually the clearest memory I have of the march.

Yet I got the impression that most people in attendance were of the view that the cluster-bombing of Iraq, and the interruptions to utilities, would take a terrible toll on the Iraqis, and that on balance, this was too high a price for the removal of Saddam. The ‘woo look at me! I’m so moral! I’m taking a stand!’ crowd, while loud, seemed thankfully minimal.

Cluster-bombs aren’t a cause for celebration.

I feel much the same way about, and think as much of, people who take advantage of any other cause to promote themselves. I distinctly remember an incident on Twitter, where a self-declared ‘activist’ gave the kind of patronising advocacy for mental health that only someone who didn’t know anything about it could give – followed by a celebration of how he (not the issue) was trending.

(Seriously, it was about as ill-thought-out as telling someone with depression to ‘cheer up’. And the dude wants recognition as an ‘activist’. Fark!)

Observation: Twitter needs an #UnfollowFriday for these parasites, and anyone foolish enough to enable them.

It doesn’t always work out for people who have to live with depression, but the really important thing is that depression works out well for ‘activists’, right? (Sarcasm doesn’t depress me).


Grandstanding ignoramuses. So, you want to lecture people? You want to deliver exposition in the most didactic method possible? How about you do a little reading first, eh?

I was at a gathering of poets at Gawler the other weekend, when some bloke recited an ‘Ode To America’. I don’t normally mind the phrase ‘you just don’t get it’, at least not above and beyond its status as clichéd, but this guy was supererogating supererogation in his overuse and overemphasis of the phrase.

Moreover, in his list of crimes committed by America (a good number of which I’m not happy about myself), there were factual errors – such as Saddam’s regime being largely created by US support. If you’re going to address a gathering of people as if you’re capable of schooling them, you first need to do enough homework to be able to safely assume you know better than them.

Having an uniformed opinion, and bleating on about it as if you’re some kind of guru is cheap and easy, and I guess, easily accessible to stupid and lazy people. I found the poem more depressing that a shit sandwich served up as gourmet appétit.

(Yeah, I was supposed to be supportive, so I clapped two fingers together).

I have a similar, related response to self-aggrandizing conspiracy theorists, who in being infallible, what with their ‘evidence’ always being unavailable, manage to expect to be taken seriously while at the same time shifting the burden of proof to their audience. What arrogance!

It’s not just paranoid, or credulous, it’s totally devoid of work-ethic; ignorance elevated to the stature of philosophy, with the maximum of taking one’s self too seriously as a source of wisdom.


People who cultivate a troglodytic public image in the hope of adoration. It’s not enough for me to say that I don’t like being expected to play along with the game of treating misogyny as a defining trait of masculinity. I mean, I do encounter lads who are okay with my not joining in, but still expect me to be somehow vaguely impressed.

This usually occurs with the out group being belittled isn’t in attendance. I’m treated as if my opposition to misogyny is just an act to be entertained, there for the benefit of ‘the girls’, or ‘the Abos’, or whoever else.

As soon as my ‘act’ is supposedly over, I’m expected to be a supportive mate, so much so that whatever I seem to say, gets contorted into words of praise via some of the most conceited of mental gymnastics I’ve ever seen.

I guess they’re projecting their own two-facedness onto the rest of the ‘blokes’ (it’s usually guys, but not always). My mistake perhaps, is in being too specific, analytic, and measured in my responses, in the hope that they would be less defensive, and more able to learn from criticism.

It doesn’t seem to ever work, and it’s just stressing me out.

And laughing at them, because I think they’re pathetic, always seems easily misconstrued with laughing with them. Even when I explicitly mention that I think the point of contention is pathetic.

‘Go fuck yourself, racist/sexist/misogynist’ is gradually working my way to a permanent position at the tip of my tongue. If they aren’t going to learn, that’s their own responsibility, and I’ll be fucked if I’m going to take responsibility for their self-esteem.

Really, is it reasonable to expect, that on top of whatever other damage they’re doing to whoever else, I should pay a price in depression just so they can feel better about themselves? My patience shouldn’t, and can’t be endless.


People who monopolise group spaces for their personal, comparatively trivial, shit. You could have someone wanting to talk about being tortured, or raped, or mutilated, or beaten, or whatever else, and there’ll be some selfish arse who comes along to whine about their own existential crisis that arises out of some non-trauma. Often, it’ll be the same existential crisis the same time, over and fucking over, like a broken record (apologies if I’m doing this – in my defence, I have been tortured before, not that I really want to talk about it).

Look, I don’t have a problem with their expressing their issues per se. It’s just that in a shared, finite space, priority is a necessity every responsible adult in a group needs to consider. If some things won’t be able to be talked about, then you’d better get the serious stuff done in short order.

‘Whaaa! My father once mocked my collecting of baseball cards! Am I really a man?’

Please, spare me.


The list goes on, but there’s one I’m anticipating from those who can’t read the signs, or listen to the warnings. Eventually, when depression isn’t as much of a dampener to action for me as it is now, I’m going to be more aggressive about these things.

I suspect inevitably I’ll be up against a tirade of ‘well why didn’t you say something?’ / ‘I thought you were a friend!’ / ‘BETRAYAL!’

Yeah well, I think I’ve spelled it out well enough, at least for anyone smart enough to know better, or anyone smart enough to deserve my attention in the first place.

I’ll not be handing out tissues. I’ll not be doing much mourning over lost friendships.

This is shit, up with which I shall not put.

~ Bruce