In this third installment of a series intended to cleanse my inner MGTOW, we will move from pain to humor, feminism to humanism, but the repeated theme is this: things are not always as they seem and can even be the reverse of such appearances.
My team of lovely physical therapists might look innocent enough as they gently bend and twist my body, but while it may look like they are just giving a massage, they are more like some kind of Greek goddess sending great crackling sheets of lightning through my entire being–like Electroconvulsive therapy with the electrodes placed instead on the feet. Ironically, they then do, in fact, place electrodes on my foot (an H-wave machine: electroanalgesia), which is the most pleasant part of the therapy. But before this final mercy, there are two hours of self-torture, guided misery, and then the laying on of hands–pure sadism issuing from these evocators’ grizzly fingers of impalement; introducing me to the Un-Holy Spirit, or what Schopenhauer might call “the sound of the universe.” By some strange magic, these sibyls manage to concentrate the following day’s entire store of pain into 20 or 30 minutes a day in advance–not exactly “sparing” me the pain if you ask me today, but certainly when you ask me tomorrow.
Now, its hard to quantify pain. I can’t relate to these women what getting kicked square in the balls feels like, but they can understand that whatever it is, it’s not as bad—nor certainly as lasting—as a broken heart. But if I were to stick to their clinical meaning of pain, I’d use this frame of reference: having a full-power kick checked forcefully and clashing shin on shin.
(first sparring class: 14 year-old–on the right–versus assistant instructor–on the left)
That is excruciating pain, and you can’t walk on that leg—it might even be broken, as in the case of Anderson Silva, Corey Hill, and other UFC fighters. Now, this is what I’d like to say to these women: you lovely, compassionate, and skilled ladies cause me something close to that amount of pain continuously for 10-30 minutes—and I love you for it! As far as the feminist notion of instinctual, deeply buried misogyny, I consider this to be a knockdown argument against it. If I had any hatred towards this alluring and crafty gender, I would have kicked you each by now, for, as any study on torture proves, everyone has their breaking point.
So this is what I’d say to a particular brand of feminist: men don’t innately hate women–I’m heart-broken and angry yet retain this much control of myself–and if there were some unconscious misogyny in me, you’d expect it to come out when a team of women conjure steady, sustained, 10-out-of-10 pain signals from the world of my body. It takes every ounce of my restraint to short-circuit my pain reflexes—so much that I’m useless for about four hours afterwards; recovering; dead to the world. I literally slur my speech sometimes as I slide off the massage table. How could I do this if I hated the people causing me pain? Besides, I’m a skilled martial artist with many kicks at my disposal—on a hair trigger–and I’ve gorged myself on enough violent movies and video games to turn Elijah Wood into a psychopath, if such media “conditioning” really were capable of such things. Again, things are not what they seem: the problem isn’t the overabundance of such hyper-masculinity in a boy’s life, but the utter dearth of it–the absence of strong male figures in his (actual) life displaying anything like healthy masculinity…but I digress…
Instead of bending to this perfectly rational impulse to defend my bodily integrity, I relax and comport myself; and that feeling of relaxing, of giving up the will to command motor function and passively experience the sheets of lightning pouring through my body, without response, takes enormous and sustained effort. Gripping the table and not kicking them is like a two-hour MMA workout in terms of recovery time. The body’s self-defense mechanisms increase their volume the more they are ignored. I’ve found that laughing out the pain is helpful, but a good joke at such times is even better–you forget you are in pain for a brief moment. However, in this politically correct, lawsuit-happy country, humor can also be quite treacherous (for a man, that is) and this is really the topic of our post here.
You see, as a man, you are often rather disarmed by the beauty of the women around you–and like those pain signals, the feelings aroused by their presence demand expression, by which they might find annihilation. You find yourself saying things in your head like this: “Ah, my dear Amanda, you must have changed your hair–it looks like the helical or braided structure of a solar flair or Birkeland Current dancing radiantly about your glowing face.”
This kind of reverie offers a brief escape. But wait, is this comment more suggestive of “Juliet is the sun,” or the image of Medusa? Glad I didn’t say anything. Then another thought strikes you: “somehow she looks more beautiful every time I see her!” You briefly consider telling her–then recoil in horror at the likely outcome. (I ended up giving her a more subtle compliment about her hair). Perhaps if you phrased it right: “Amanda, you are more beautiful every time I see you. Seriously, it is getting downright disarming at this point!” Could the feigned anger and accusation take the edge off the fact that I’m hitting on her whether intending to or not? (Truly, I have no interest in romance with anyone right now–I actually just wanted to see her smile). You see, the gung fu of healthy narcissism demands that you hit ‘close’ on all these windows, though letting them play for long enough to judge their character and encourage better material. Wit is really just letting this process unfold until you experience good material, and hitting ‘open’ or ‘send’ as quickly as you can! Wisdom is knowing what to overlook, but I digress…back to the pain.
What’s that? Ah, now she starts demonstrating various exercises while she presses her body against the wall; standing on her tippy-toes, she is at this point basically an atlas of female musculature and curvacious form. The inarticulate rage begins to build, evoking fantasies of playfully–yet half seriously–telling her “Damn it Amanda, you are not allowed to wear black yoga pants to work! I need to concentrate on every part of my body but that one, thank you!” I hit ‘close,’ and as soon as I do, these thoughts stream in: “Not kosher, dude. Besides, if you really check in with yourself, this is just jealousy confused for anger, and those yoga pants give a man a will to live and fight on–so I praise thy yoga pants, dear muse! As a gentleman, I promise that I’ll only appreciate from peripheral vision–but that devil is slippery, so accidents happen.” I smile to myself as a warm feeling takes me away.
A courageous man named Ralph painstakingly lays down on the massage table next to me, making an even four dudes lined up in a row, bracing for what I imagine would be a feminist’s wet dream. Ralph sits up, looks over at Amanda, and says…
Amanda, seeing you over there with those little green plastic gloves, you are the picture of a perfect wife…you are cleaning the place up, taking care of us…ah if I were 10 years younger.
The whole room erupts in embarrassed laughter. Then, as I’m laughing, temporarily oblivious to physical pain, a useful thought finally occurs to me…
Ralph, you are one brave son of a bitch, telling a sexist joke right before one of these lovely sadists lights into your crippled back!
The room erupts again, but without the embarrassed or “hot-potato” feeling it had just been haunted by–yet still riding on it’s inertia. Each of us guys received the relief of a good couple minutes of hearty laughter and smiles. Amanda was beaming red with mirth and flattery. We will get to my political comments in a moment, but first let me say that my comment is a better example of the gung fu of healthy narcissism. I managed to diffuse any insult, while praising Ralph both for his humor and his bravery; compliment the entire female staff, and create something of a feeling of belonging or community in the room. I suck at this, so give me this victory, will ya…I’m gonna need all of your good will to get through the following remarks about gender politics.
You must understand, a man can only restrain his incessant will for so long when it comes to various pains and passions of the soul–far less time than he can restrain the imperatives of physical pain. We often make sexist jokes or otherwise “inappropriate” comments, but much like “objectifying women,” they seem to only get offended when this is done artlessly and by the wrong people. So again, let us be gods of social judo! I say this not merely to encourage wit and verve instead of winks and whistles, but also as a warning: it is not legally or socially safe to really behave like a man in modern American society. You might think that people understand the fact that in certain situations (like those involving excruciating pain) allowances must be made because humor is imperative–and usually something of the “black” variety. But, the nano-thin knife-edge that separates well-intentioned humor from sexual harassment tends to lacerate regardless. Ralph had spent three years working with these ladies and while the elephant in the room had to eventually make an appearance, he already had enough rapport built up to pull off this move. One is not often afforded that amount of time–nor a verbal judoka at one’s side to temper the reaction.
Listen, I make no excuses for assholes, I’m just trying to put this idea of a “hostile work environment” into some kind of sane perspective. Certain work environments are hostile to begin with, towards any gender or race, and these have historically been jobs for men (e.g. law enforcement, military, the hospital operating room, etc). Men deal with the stress of this sort of work with a certain battery of strategies: denial, gritting it out, and especially, dark humor! A male surgeon simply has a harder time dealing with compassion fatigue by having a good cry about it. Cops utter offensive quips; soldiers tell dead-baby jokes; and surgeons mock the dead or the frailties of the human body. They simply have to! They are men, they are maximally stressed out, and they have to maintain their sanity somehow. Unfortunately, all of these jokes, especially dead-baby jokes, might be considerably more offensive to women than men.
However, now that women have entered these previously male-only spaces, there is a tacit understanding that they be as tough–physically and mentally–as their male coworkers. What (apparently) happens quite often, however, is that women experience this not simply as a hostile workspace, but one hostile to women in particular. I’m not saying that women are weaker–Ronda Rousey would make one bad-ass cop!–but that sometimes they expect that the rules of female etiquette still be in place. They sometimes misunderstand compassion for cruelty. I’ve heard soldiers referring to cigarettes as “death sticks,” but far from a sadistic attempt to conjure death anxiety in their comrade, it compassionately assumes that death was already on his mind and seeks to temper it with an illusory sense of control–displaying a defiant contempt of fate. Whatever element of schadenfreude exists in this humor, it is likely just a test of the other persons strength–it seeks to eliminate any insecurity about how reliable that person will be under fire. Let’s not begrudge them this form of solution to anxiety. Dr. Heidi Kraft’s book “Rule Number Two” recognizes the psychological boon that certain seemingly cruel practices can mean for demoralized troops in her chapter titled “Friday Night Fights:”
The fact that a boxing ring made the trip to Iraq was actually one of the sanest things to happen in that place.
This stellar psychologist reports that while some black humor was sent her way–mainly to ease her anxiety–there were no “shit tests,” as she was not a warfighter. Had she been, you better believe she’d get hazed a bit–but there is nothing innately wrong with this form of “brotherly un-love.” Kraft candidly talks about being so terrified while being transported by Humvee that it was all she could do to just keep control of her weapon and avoid shooting a Marine by accident. These are the sorts of things that invalidate your “credentials” as a shooter and a Marine has every right to test his comrades a bit to ensure he’s protected. I’m not saying that plenty of men wouldn’t be similarly frazzled, just that other men and women have a right to test them a bit and see how they hold up. These tests can be blunt or humorous, but clearly black humor is far from the only minefield that men must carefully tip-toe through in some modern workplaces.
You see, when arguing or discussing an issue, men are somewhat accustomed to blunt–even inflammatory–speech. Rarely is the comment “dude, that is inflammatory” any kind of objection or cause for losing social capital. If a woman enters that argument, however, things get rather dicey–blunt or barbed comments are now “attacks,” “oppression,” “harassment,” and so forth. A woman can generally get away with a caustic screed in response, shouting the guy down and destroying his social capital without a hint of hypocrisy. Not only is this hazardous for the guy’s social and legal freedoms, but it is also a dangerous confound in situations that call for quick–and potentially lethal–reactions. Cops and soldiers should be entirely focused on restraining and monitoring these reactions; focused on protecting people’s bodies, not their feelings. Again, this is no license to be an asshole, but let’s be a little compassionate with people who do these difficult jobs, eh? If we try to really understand the minds of men, we will find that the obvious is not always the right interpretation.
Take cat calls, for instance: really, the guy feels helpless, unworthy and ashamed, yet drawn to a beautiful woman by what he’d be embarrassed to admit is the feeling of an innocent moment’s crush. This is so intolerable, that he twists attraction into lust, jealousy into anger, and shame into inflated pride. And again, cat calls are not universally loathed: I’ve seen plenty of women flattered to the core, so long as it issues from a handsome, wealthy potential-suitor. Of course, the majority of this nonsense is in fact guys just being dicks, but lets not be so hasty to place some kind of woman-hating rape instinct in every man’s soul–let’s just see them for the flawed people that they are. We must remember that rage and violence stem from powerlessness, so the (sometimes) stated feminist goal of reducing men’s power can end up making rage and violence more prevalent! This is why we saw the rise of the hyper-masculine action movie hero of the 80’s: in a world with less actual power for men, in an age when men were encouraged to explore their “feminine side,” and so forth, violent movies were the only stabilizing force for his alienated male psyche.
Now, while we are at this business of doling out some benefit of the doubt, let’s also extend it to women, for, in my experience, these complaints are far more often encountered in arguments about gender politics than in actual work spaces. Women are simply not that fragile and the feminist implication that they are should be the insult. Even many liberals get this. The feminist will respond that I am blind to these forces, which are deflected away from my consciousness as if my penis were producing a strong force field. I’m tempted to grant them that. But I usually find that the feminist is moving between a few different scenarios: if the work space scenario isn’t going well, suddenly you will find yourself talking about cat calls, or rape! You slam on the breaks in the conversation and ask “how did we get from dead baby jokes to rape?” Clearly I’m admitting some of these sexist forces, especially in the realm of cat calls–I’m just asking us to hesitate before careening into the issues of domestic violence and rape. Besides, having been told that I’m blind to something, I keep a keen eye out for it.
I eavesdropped on the aftermath of Ralph’s jokes, and these women were speaking very warmly and mirthfully about him to each other. Let’s give women some credit: they ARE actually strong enough to hang with the men–some salty ladies even surpass them in steely grit–and they likely don’t feel discriminated against by their coworkers as often as the media and various advocates would have us believe. I’ve known some tough ladies in my day. I’ve seen a few bumper stickers that gave a humorous warning, tagging the driver as an “evil war-bitch from hell.” I have some female friends that can dish the insults with the best of them. My best friend refers to hard-core, lunatic feminists as “Twat Nazis”–an apt monker she invented before evil chicks like this came on the scene. There are all kinds of women. I’m only arguing that the Ronda Rousey type of girl is less likely to feel threatened or claim sexual harassment spuriously than someone with a different–and much more liberal–upbringing. But this is tragic, because in many cases guys are not meaning to be offensive. Men socialize by insulting one another, but they don’t really mean it. Women socialize by complimenting one another… But they don’t really mean it, either! Misunderstandings are nearly inevitable. So let’s replace that nano-thin knife of prejudice-divination with Hanlon’s Razor:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Things are not always as they seem. Let me leave you with a last example–one that was of personal importance to me as I rehabilitate my ability to love again. MGTOW philosophy seems to hold as a core belief that women are biologically incapable of true romantic love; that they are no different in motivation than a female chimp presenting her rump in exchange for food. Now THAT is offensive! But far worse, it is incorrect–besides hamstringing a guy’s ability to love and trust (it’s true intent, I imagine). Any guy who has been “taken for a ride” by a lover can sympathize with this feeling, but let’s be discerning here. When I felt something like that hatred of female nature well up in me, I studied it, and found, as per our theme, that it was not really anger–or at least anger whose object was the female gender. I was angry at myself. I’ve never had much money, but when I honestly inquired, I realized that when I did have money it was a joy to share it–I’ve never felt like more of a man than when I was the one paying the bills. Yeah, yeah, MGTOWs, I’m basically a pathetic dupe, blah, blah. Seriously though, my anger at women valuing money, career stability, etc, in there partners was simply anger at myself for not having money or career stability. Powerlessness turned to anger; insight turned to peace. I have little doubt that it would be my pleasure to share the profits of a healthy career with the right woman; someone who hurts me so good–or better still, someone who does that to other people for a living!
So, I’ll leave you with a question: did the following joke that I uttered last week in PT cross the line? Was I being offensive, but oblivious to this fact? Amanda was issuing pitiless orders to a female patient, while Carolyne and I were talking about sadism. Amanda joked about being a tyrant and I spotted an opportunity, saying “you know what, I imagine you ladies have happy healthy romantic relationships–I mean, you get out all of the nagging and abuse here at work. You must have the happiest husbands in the country.” They all chuckled, some while looking up towards the ceiling quizzically and gently nodding. Did I miss a hint of embarrassment or resentment? After I read your answers in the comments section I’ll actually ask these ladies and we’ll see.