February 20, 2015

Christian Grey: The Disneyland Dom

Anyone familiar with my original thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey will likely not find this supplemental rant much of a surprise, but I suppose it’s necessary, being who I am, to say something. After all, it would be irresponsible of me to avoid commentary on a subject that hits so close to home (or as close as it can, at least) on the silver screen. So, begrudgingly, I dragged myself to the theater to see the movie adaptation directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, starring Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele.

I laughed, I winced, and shook my head in mild annoyance over the neutered and underwhelming spectacle before me. When the movie ended, I wondered how many people in the theater found it to be little more than a flat, safe, sterile, PG-13-like buzz kill. Afterward, I put my thoughts to keyboard, struggling with what I should title this commentary. 50 Shades of Fail? Not-a-True-Dominant: The Movie? Or how about Rich and Kinky Boy-Faced Beta Male Tries to Seduce a Smug, Temperamental Virgin? It was quite a conflict.

I finally settled on Christian Grey: The Disneyland Dom, for I think that among the movie’s many flawed premises, the one that irks me the most is the inadvertent message that women might be interested in male domination…permitting you’re a hot Armani-suited billionaire. While I’m happy to see the subject of consensual female submission going mainstream, I feel the idea of it, as conceived in this tale, is tied too closely to the mystique of wealth and bling. If we strip away Christian Grey’s expensive raiment, his luxuriant urban address, his stable of exotic sports cars, his private helicopter, and above all, his top notch “red room” that would make any professional dominatrix drool, what remains? Beyond image, where in this film is Christian Grey really dominant at all, aside from the entitlements afforded him through money? We see him chasing after Anastasia Steele, a woman who, despite her waking desires, repeatedly denies him (a common romantic cliché). In the wake of her rejections and sarcastic remarks, he chases her like a cross between a stalker, a wounded puppy, and a well dressed front-door salesman. And yet he dramatically avoids her at all the wrong moments. In many ways, this man acted like der uber jerken, getting up and abandoning her when he should have enriched their bond, shutting her out when sharing would have maximized intimacy, and wallowing in his own self-pity over a shiny piano while she stands half naked, a foot away. Which brings me to my next peeve.

Second in my list of grievances about the film (but just barely so) is the absolutely dysfunctional portrayal of male dominance we are subjected to, over and over. I understand that a story needs a conflict and that stories serve more as entertainment than enlightenment, but as I originally lamented regarding E. L. James’ trilogy, 50 Shades the movie had an opportunity to present the D in D/s in a more positive light—to show the world that you don’t have to be an emotionally (and psychically) scarred person to partake in these things. We are left, especially at the gloomy end of the first film, not only assuming that Christian’s interest in D/s directly and unequivocally stems from his dysfunction and romantic ineptness, but also feeling like that man is a bit of a wimp and pushover.

Segue to peeve three: Sassy Steele’s domineering and passive-aggressive vibe is tiresomely obvious throughout the film. So obvious, in fact, that no self-respecting dominant male I know of (real dominant men, mind you) would put up with her sneers, snide remarks, eye rolling, and condescending jabs. It’s here where I see the usual girl power scripting of Hollywood, likely uncomfortable with the subject matter to begin with, tinkering more than a little with her character to make her “hipper” and more palatable to the public’s genteel standards. Anatasia’s character was a little playful and opinionated in the books, though she was also naive and subdued. The movie made her much more bold and sarcastic, bordering on hostile, but I certainly didn’t find myself surprised in the least about that. I honestly don’t think anyone churning out films from major studios today is capable of presenting a woman as anything but strong and sassy (and I’ll add domineering, while I’m at it).

This presents a problem with the portrayal of submission for the D/s-illiterate yet nonetheless intrigued female viewers. Ana is not just a brat or a typical SAM (Smart Assed Masochist): she is disrespectful, dramatic, passive-aggressive, and tries her best to be as unimpressed as possible with her seducer throughout the film. Granted, Ana is what they call “vanilla” in BDSM terms. With that in mind, many of her lame reactions to lame dominance were plausible (even if her twenties-ish virginity isn’t). Still, her contentiousness doesn’t set a very good example at all for impressionable women who are on the cusp of taking marginal interest in this way of life. Women drawn in from the 50 Shades Effect who make the mistake of approaching authentically dominant men as their personal Christian Greys (it has already happened to me, and more than once, I’m sad to report) will likely have a very rude awakening when the face of mommy porn meets the concrete of reality.

But the movie isn’t all bad. For BDSM 101, the film did well with respect to consent, negotiation, and safe words. The War and Peace sized contract scene conveyed, at least, the detailed consent of kinky play partners. It took great pains, in fact, to inform the novice yet curious public that these interactions are based upon consent. Zooming out to see the big picture, the 50 Shades Effect helped to bring BDSM—and, to some degree, D/s—into mainstream discussion. This helps to “normalize” D/s a little more in our culture and foster an environment where more men and women can at least consider the idea of dominance and submission as something other than shameful and pathological interactions between deviant adults.

But normalizing D/s for the general public’s consumption might only swap out the old canards with new ones. It remains to be seen what effect E. L. James’ trendy story-made-movie will have on mainstream views regarding actual dominance and submission. Aside of being annoyed at how much of a cheesy cartoon D/s may now be in the eyes of some, my real concern is that instead of accepting the deeper and wider practices of our world, there will be a polarization between what’s deemed good and bad D/s, where a gamut of consumable acts and ideas are sanctioned and others remain stigmatized. In other words, some progress toward wider acceptance, but otherwise business as usual.


September 12, 2014

Man vs. Guy

I am an avid reader, you might say, one with a particular love for fiction and the art of story-telling. I admire the ability of a writer to craft a story that captures the imagination of a reader and lures it into a rich world of discovery. The best fictional stories, in my opinion, are ones grounded with elements of realism. Instead of creating worlds and ideas based strictly on the impossible, these works of fiction give us a flavor of things we recognize while building upon their possibilities. These writers have a gift, not merely for painting into the picture that already exists, but also for clearly seeing the original picture and directing a reader’s attention to those details that will enrich his or her real-life experience, for those details aren’t make-believe; they are true.

Most often I see this flicker of truth come to life in a story’s depiction of men. Writers can justify writing about men as they are or should be without the usual nod to modern sex politics because, hey, it’s only a story, after all. These male fictional characters are brave. They pursue their target—whether it be a female, an enemy, or an achievement—with confidence. They are in control of their emotions without being passionless; they don’t wait for authority to be given to them, they take it. They are generally wise. They recognize strength, for they know it within themselves and they don’t fear it in others. Men like Jane Austin’s Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), and James Bond both entrance and inspire us. They are, each in their own way, great men, strong men, deserving of admiration and even love for the ways in which they better the world and the people around them.

The “guy” is a breed of male who, to me, makes an impression that is fleeting and almost ineffectual. Having been verbally castrated with a gender neutralized reference that banishes him somewhere between boyhood and metrosexualism, the guy is hard to take seriously by serious women—outside of, perhaps, interest in his wallet.

As I recognize these traits of real masculinity, I can’t help but ask, what has happened to men? You know, men in the real world (not in fiction). Why is crossing the path of a man who embodies the truths these stories echo such a rare occurrence? I have encountered only a handful men who were examples of the masculinity I naturally crave as a woman and it is more than just a little frightening to me that evidence of that type of masculinity seems to be ever dwindling.

From my vantage point, the standard of masculinity that is modeled in modern men is slowly being morphed into something that bears little resemblance to generations of men past. In American culture, at least, it seems we have traded in our understanding of traditional male identity for a washed-out version that inspires despondency. Today, instead of men, we have somewhat dubious “guys.”

The “guy” is a breed of male who, to me, makes an impression that is fleeting and almost ineffectual. Having been verbally castrated with a gender neutralized reference that banishes him somewhere between boyhood and metrosexualism, the guy is hard to take seriously by serious women—outside of, perhaps, interest in his wallet. He is a living effigy burdened by misandrist caricatures like the simple, needy fool with a raging Oedipus complex that women condescendingly accept into their lives and then proceed to wisely manage or the well-meaning, comic bumbler who always screws important things up. The guy wasn’t always this way. At one time, we called adult males men. Men were respected and hardly the constant butt ends of degrading jokes used in countless commercials, movies, and modern sitcom punchlines.1

So where did the term “guy” come from, anyway? The origin of the word is actually quite peculiar in that it’s an eponym from a person in history once named “Guy.” His full name was Guy Fawkes, a Catholic dissident who was hanged in England for his involvement in what came to be known as the “Gunpowder Plot” in 1605.  Fawkes and his co-conspirators had schemed to blow up the Parliament while King James I and the aristocracy held opening council inside.  Fawkes’ plan, we’re told, was foiled only at the last moment of attempting to light the fuses of gunpowder-filled barrels that had been smuggled into a cellar beneath the Parliament.2

The thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot made November 5th “Guy Fawkes Day,” which became a holiday in England marked by bonfires, fireworks, and burning straw effigies of Fawkes. These incendiary dolls were called “guys,” and the term guy later on came to be associated with a person of bizarre appearance. Somewhere in the 19th century, “guy” became associated with “man,” and more recently, the term has taken on a gender-neutral quality. On that note, if you research gender language you’ll find the term “guy” is one of a growing number of male-oriented terms that are being embraced as “gender-neutral.” In 1999 Steven J. Clancy wrote an article for American Speech entitled “The Ascent of Guy” in which he said:

“The word guy so pervades American speech that a detailed account of it would hardly seem necessary, yet the multiple meanings of the word guy are quite complex… Contemporary English is in a schismatic state between those who make use of or prescribe generic nouns and pronouns, such as man and he ‘human being’, and those who view these constructions as signs of a deeply sexist structure of English.”

At the height of feminist critique and criticism of the generic use of “man” and “he,” the gender-neutral use of guy rose in popularity. As Clancy put it: “Contrary to everything we might expect because of the pressures of ‘politically correct’ putative language reforms, a new generic noun is developing right before our eyes.”

Fast forward to 2014 and we notice that somehow the word guy has largely escaped common scrutiny and is widely accepted as non-gender specific. Perhaps guy is considered permissible because, unlike man which denotes arguably dominant masculinity, guy reflects, instead, a state of neutralized masculinity.

Now, you might be thinking, “it’s only a word,” and that’s certainly true. It would be easy to think of something so small as relatively harmless if it weren’t for the fact that the gender language being neutralized is exclusively (and originally) male terminology and that younger generations of men are strongly identifying themselves with a term that has been, for all intents and purpose, emasculated. I know that when I hear the term guy, I think of phrases like “he’s a nice guy” and words like “irresponsible.” The pictures the word brings to my mind are of young men, acting somewhat like overgrown kids without a care in the world. Guys are casual and easy and the term just doesn’t carry the weight that “man” does. It seems to me that I’m not alone in these observations. Many seem to be noticing the decline of the masculine in our modern age, from the average person you may pass on the street to solid research that is calling to light the decline of men in workplaces and universities,3 and even the decline of male  fertility.4 The encroachment of gender-neutral social engineering is evident as well, especially in younger generations, where young males are far more amenable to such engineering. Outside of clinical studies, the decline of men and the lack of interest in issues facing men today have been questioned by several authors like Warren Farrel, Christina Hoff Sommers, Helen Smith, Suzanne Venker, Leonard Sax, and even Camile Paglia. But what would cause men to want to accept lessened masculinity through the modern “guy culture?” Guy culture is cultivated, I believe, through two major things: the first is a lack of good male role models; the second, which comes later, involves  a man’s  increasing willingness to become a sort of passive gender-neutral individual with a penis who talks and acts like much like a woman does in order to be accepted, respected, and, most of all, desired by contemporary women.

While true masculinity is marked by its understanding of and ability to cope with reality, the modern guy seems more inclined to run from it—and who can blame him?

In this day and age, fathers rarely have much presence in the life of young children and education lends very little in the way of male role models. According to the US Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of every three—live in biological father-absent homes.5 USA Today reported in 2012 that the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 2% of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 18% of elementary and middle-school teachers are men.6 At the present time, a child’s most formative years are dominated by female authority figures.

“In the modern techno-industrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.” —Edward Abbey

Generations of boys in the past spent large amounts of time with their fathers. They learned to emulate their father’s behaviors, thought processes, and interactions with other people. In many cases they saw the harder parts of life, but eventually learned that work worth doing was worth doing well. They learned how to set their minds to a task and achieve their goals. Most importantly, time spent with their fathers instilled in them a confidence of what it meant to be a man. Today, many boys at their earliest stages of life are left to be shaped by the hands of women: mothers, childcare workers, and teachers. In the absence of a father’s presence, women, for the most part, become the responsible parties for sending a boy forth into the word as a man, but again, for the post part, they don’t live up to the task. After his studies on fatherly influence, Ronald Rohner, the director of the Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut, told LiveScience in an interview, “We’re now finding that not only are fathers influential, sometimes they have more influence on kids’ development than moms.”

Should anyone question the importance of fathers, we might consider the fact that youths in father-absent families have significantly higher odds of being imprisoned than those from dual-parent families (a little over 2 to 1) and about 90% of these youths are male.7 Further, a carefully designed Swedish population-based study of almost one million children reported a twofold increased risk of psychiatric disease, suicide, attempted suicide, alcohol- and narcotics-related diseases for boys and girls living in a one-parent household, and for all causes of mortality in boys when compared with those in two-parent households.8

The statistics are plentiful, but the one truth that rings throughout all of them is the need for men to mentor other men—something which has always been vitally important for major human civilizations to thrive. Beyond the single-parent home and its issues lie cultural influences set upon males today, and one of the most toxic is instilling fear and self-hatred in the male half of our population. The negative result of this misandrist influence is perhaps most clearly evidenced by the higher rates of male suicide (3.0 to 7.5 times that of women) across much of the modern world.9 Health professionals have noted a paucity of advocacy and research devoted to the issue of lack of male role-models facing men. Instead of being guided in their natural strengths and being taught how to have confidence in taking authority and responsibility, boys are subjected to having their most natural instincts demonized. From a very early age they are groomed to believe that their intrinsic impulses are harmful at best and worthy of shame or punishment at worst. Society tells boys as often and as loudly as possible that true masculinity is unrefined and unintelligent. If no one is there to interfere and offer a counter message, these boys grow up believing that the word “man” is negative and synonymous with uncontrollable aggression, if not unadulterated stupidity. Collectively, we threaten boys and young men with all that their natures could cost them if they follow their natural desires too strongly. In response, men become more comfortable with identifying as guys because it poses less of a threat and allows them to fly obediently under the radar of ubiquitous feminist criticism.

While true masculinity is marked by its understanding of and ability to cope with reality, the modern guy seems more inclined to run from it—and who can blame him? In a world that is becoming more female-centric under the guise of equality, is it any wonder that guys would rather disengage? When boys are being surpassed by girls in school due to teacher bias10 and when men are losing jobs to women for the sake of political correctness11, can we really be surprised that authentic manhood has been rendered obsolete and that rather than fight the confinement, young men would rather take on the role of something more palatable? That something is guy culture.

A society in which manhood is discarded is a society made vulnerable from within, for it weakens that half of the society that are its protectors and builders.

In guy culture masculinity gets a makeover. Men trade their better judgment for trendiness and society condescendingly applauds their “evolution” into civilized human beings. The more they buy into the idea of absolute equality of the sexes, the more they are praised for their open-mindedness and better-than-average male intellect. The more they apologize for the crimes of their sex, the more they are accepted and “respected.”

“This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.” – Camille Paglia

In the midst of this guy epidemic, male/female relationships are often thrown completely out of balance. A deep-seated unrest grows in both sexes as men opt for a less aggressive role in relationships while women grasp for control that is, in spite of what society has programed them to believe, often beyond their real interests. Women nonetheless use sex as a tremendously influential bargaining chip today and men say whatever they think will get them sex (just ask any one of us women), but I think that, ultimately, both are left dissatisfied and confused. Even for submissive females, the quest to find a man who understands what it actually means to be a man is a daunting task and many girls find themselves at a loss for how to find dominance in their mates. True masculinity seems so rare that even the slightest flicker of it is enough to make women of all ages and walks of life fall over themselves for whip-wielding billionaires and sparkly vampires, but even then the message being digested is this: true masculinity is a mythical creature. Females who date or search for mates find themselves frustrated and lost in a sea of flattering, overly cooperative, rules-following guys who, as willing as they are to tell them what they want to hear, somehow leave them feeling empty. Without unadulterated masculinity, femininity loses it’s corollary sense of purpose. A man can be self-sustaining, but women, I’ve experienced, often need a sun to organize their universe around. In spite of the best efforts of guys to assume the roles that modern culture would have them fulfill, females (eventually) become listless, unhappy, and disorganized. Depression, anxiety, and stress become common problems for women, I’ve observed, as their exposure to and relationship with noble masculine strength gradually lessens.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” —C.S Lewis, The Abolition Of Man

So, what to do? I do not claim to have the answers for how to stop guy culture from spreading, but I know that it is gravely important that we do not let it pass unnoticed. We must not pretend that we do not see that men themselves are slowly but surely being neutralized and we must do whatever is necessary to avoid participating in that process. Men are the sentinels of the human social body; they assemble our world brick by brick and defend civilization from harm. In many societies, men are considered the spiritual heads of families.  I believe there is an old animal pragmatism behind all this, because a society in which manhood is discarded is a society made vulnerable from within, for it weakens that half of the society that are its protectors and builders.

I believe in giving honor and dignity back to men. I believe in fighting the surrounding influences (or lack thereof) within our modern world that tacitly allow men to enfeeble themselves. I believe in fighting misandry, the hatred of men, both well-hidden and clear to see. I believe that by accepting men as naturally ascendant again in our own relationships, we can do our little part in the world to take a stand against the extinction of the strong and reliable masculinity we know and love so much. We can show the world that a man can be thoughtful, sophisticated, kind, and wise—all while being strong, confident, courageous, and sanely dominant. We can show the world that a man can preside over his woman without being abusive and destructive, and that the woman who accepts her place at his side finds blissful fulfillment in her role of submission. We can reject the stupid stereotypes and demonization foisted upon men and choose to see the good in them instead. We can reject the “guy” and go for the man without feeling guilty in doing so.

This is not to say I believe in stereotyping men or keeping them in rigid line with an expected role ultimately for the service of women. This isn’t about “benevolent sexism.”

This matter, I believe, is one of simple supply and demand. If we as women, sincerely in our hearts desire sincere Men, I believe they will rise to meet those desires, and naturally so, but we mustn’t confuse our messages. We can’t keep this a secret desire we’re too embarrassed to admit openly while at the same time screaming at the top of our lungs that we don’t really need men. We shouldn’t settle for the virtually neutered guy when a strong masculine force of wisdom is what we really crave in our lives. Cutting out the nonsense and hearkening to the call of our natural instincts may not be the “correct” or “polite” thing to do this day and age, but I strongly feel that it will be far more rewarding for us in the end as women and men.


1. https://stupidmancommercials.blogspot.ch
2. https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/250010/Guy-Fawkes-Day
3. Autor and Wasserman (2013). Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education (MIT Department of Economics)
4. Swan, Elkin, and Fenster (1997) Have Sperm Densities Declined? A Reanalysis of Global Trend Data (California Department of Health Services)
5. https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-126.pdf
6. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.pdf
7. https://www.ric-fish.com/strengthenamerica/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/C3_father-absence-and-youth-incarceration.pdf
8. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2803%2912324-0/abstract
9. https://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/1/133.long
10. https://www.terry.uga.edu/~cornwl/research/cmvp.genderdiffs.pdf
11. https://www.weeklystandard.com/author/christina-hoff-sommers