Zero, Not My Hero

Y’all know I don’t regularly read a lot of feminist blogs besides Aunt B .  It’s not because I’m such a misogynist pig (that remains to be seen) , but because I am an ENFJ personality type, and in order to be who I am, I need a real human being to interact with.  It’s hard to do that navigating through manifestos and shock material.  If I can’t read your blog and see a little of you in your opinions and theories, we really have nothing to talk about.

One I do enjoy very much is So Sioux Me.  Tracee and I “met” because we have the same blog-ployer, and she linked to something I wrote at Ugly Betty News.  I’ve been reading her personal blog ever since. 

Anyway, she’s posted the most fascinating theory about why women starve themselves :

Do you remember the old feminist theory that women crossed their legs in the feminine way to take up less space because they felt unworthy of it?

What if girls today feel they don’t even have a right to exist, let alone take up more space?

Who takes up less space on the planet, or in a room, or on a couch, than a size Zero girl?

Perhaps the first step to preventing poor body image and extreme thinness and misperception of our bodies is to teach daughters they have a right to exist.

Now, it’s very tempting to dismiss this theory as just another womyns studies pointy-head mental exercise, but Tracee hits on something that has always perplexed me: why do women WANT to be a size zero?  I know it’s not to be attractive to men, because no man I’ve EVER known likes women that skinny.  In fact, the “perfect” size for my wife, the size at which she has to constantly fend me off with a broomstick, is size 12.

I’ve had this conversation with many men before: where do women get the idea that having the body of a 14 year old boy is something they should strive for?

I don’t think this one can be blamed on men.  When most of us see a size zero, our first impulse is to buy her a cheeseburger.

So what do you think?  Do these women do this because they feel unworthy to take up space?

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So That’s Why

*FRANK DISCUSSION ALERT* 

I’ve always known I was different.  From a very young age, I was into things that my brothers and friends were not.  I was definitely a “mama’s boy”.  I was my dad’s “weird one”.  Even in preschool, it seemed like I was addicted to melodrama, and flamboyance, and over-the-top, flowery language.  I was manic, as well.

No, this isn’t a “coming out” post.

In fact, I was “different” from the boys who grew up to be gay, too.  I was totally clueless in matters of dress, and socially inept, and I loved toy cars, toy guns, and playing sports.  When puberty hit, I loved girls, in fact you could say I was girl-crazy.  I had an attraction to females that was almost Clintonesque, and it continues to this day.  It is only through the grace of God that this hasn’t gotten me into trouble.

So, I was pretty much just plain different from everybody.  I had no explanation for this, I just accepted that I was “weird”.  Then, when I was 16 or 17, I was playing backyard football when I collided with my brother, and he fell on top of my upraised head, snapping my neck back.

This caused the most intense, prolonged pain I have ever felt in my life.  We found out later at the emergency room that I had bruised my spinal cord.  I was sent to my doctor for follow up visits.  The x-rays we took that day revealed something I had never known.  Most of you reading this have little, tiny bones in your neck, wrists, and ankles.  I do not – they are fused together, and it has been that way since birth.  It is a miracle that I survived the football mishap; my neck doesn’t bend like yours, and is much more easily broken.

We found other weird things, like the fact that one of my thumbs has no working nerves in it, causing it to have no muscle at all.  It’s a small thing, but once you know it’s there, you become self-conscious about it.  My ankles and wrists can go through periods of intense pain, if I hit or turn them wrong.  Then, there’s that other stuff. 

We’ll get to that in a minute.

I just assumed that all of this was just additional weirdness added to the weirdness of my behavior, likes, and dislikes.  Then, one day, my wife and I were in the waiting room of an auto repair shop, and came across an article about DES, and how they were just finding out that it affected sons as well as daughters.  First, a little background:

DES (diethylstilbestrol) was the first synthetic estrogen to be created (1938).  Years later, Sir E. Charles Dodds was knighted for his accomplishment. Never patented, DES was marketed using hundreds of brand names in the mistaken belief it prevented miscarriages and premature deliveries.

DES was prescribed between 1938 and 1971 (but not limited to those years). It was considered the standard of care for problem pregnancies from the late 1940s well into the 1960s in the U.S. and was widely prescribed during that time. DES was sometimes even included in prenatal vitamins so there are many individuals who were not actually prescribed DES but were exposed to it anyway.

Anyway, what got our attention was the description of symptoms of “DES Sons”.  They were almost exactly a match for “that other stuff”.  Go here to read them – I have almost all of them (except the microphallus one – and I ain’t just sayin’ that – my wife has no complaints)

🙂

Then, there is this.  Or, as Wikipedia descibes it:

Diethylstilbestrol can also cause feminisation of the male foetus, as DES undergoes metabolic epoxidation, and the epoxide product has affinity towards the estrogen receptors.

Now, Rachel can explain what all the big words mean, but I get the gist, and in reading that I finally had some answers. Especially after I talked to my mother, and found out that yes, indeed she was given “something” (she didn’t remember what) to prevent miscarriage when she was pregnant with me.

The science is not decided on this yet, but I am.  Half the time, I “relate” in a traditionally male manner, the other half, in a more female manner.  I can “tennis” talk.  I seem to have a more “caring and nurturing” nature than most men.  You can even get me excited about shopping for clothes, if you catch me on the right day.  I weep at Pampers commercials.  Yet, I’m capable of male “parallel play”.  I’ve had my share of conversations with women’s chests.  I like hitting things.  I like football.

When I was a teen, about 50% of my, ahem, “fantasies”, were purely romantic in nature, instead of sexual.  It didn’t know how weird this was until I got older and learned what is “normal”.  I am an incurable romantic, though.

It’s almost as if I had an equilibrium of estrogen and testosterone, don’t you think?

So anyway – that’s why, to many females, including my wife, I’m like “the gay friend” who is still a heterosexual.  I once had a female workout partner who told her husband he didn’t have to worry about her working out with me, because I “wasn’t like other men”.  This actually hurt my feelings a little, although I knew what she meant.  It’s interesting, and I’m honored to be looked at in that way.  It sucked when I was single, though.

I hope my mother never, ever feels guilty for my “birth defects”.  I have lived an incredible life, and I’ve had many friendships many males cannot have because they do not “speak female”.  After many years, I now accept and embrace my own weirdness.

The Lord Giveth…

This is weird, and it’s neat at the same time.

Aside from a little white-ness, I have the exact same hair I had at 17.  It’s my saving grace.  In the locker room, men make little self comparisons (no ladies, believe it or not we don’t make that comparison – you know the one.  Men just don’t roll that way).  Back on topic:  I see men in their 30’s who still have bodies like they did in their 20’s.  I see men older than me, who, based on wardrobe, are far richer than I.

But, I do not fret.  I have more hair on the top of my head than they do.  All of them, younger and older.  I giggle at the men who panic in the face of a receding hairline, and shave their heads, like PeeWee Herman: “I meant to do that!” 

In my mind, this makes everything even.

Now, the bad part.  God, in his infinite wisdom, decided that if He was going to bless me with a lifelong head full of hair, there would be a price to pay.

I also have skin like I was 17.  I’m 43 years old.  My mother told me, when I was in my early 20’s and my skin still hadn’t cleared up, “Don’t worry, it’ll clear up by the time you’re 30”. 

But, at this point in my life, it’s cool.  I’m not so self-conscious about it anymore.   If I had to choose between having a headful of hair and adolescent skin or being bald and having clear skin, it’s not even a contest.

I’m beginning to think that hair is tied to the self worth of men the way breasts are to women.  But then again, I could be wrong.  Most seem obsessed with being so skinny they no longer have breasts, which IMHO is a shame.  But maybe “skininess” is the physical characteristic women tie to self worth, as men do hair.

And in both genders, the tying of the biological to self worth is probably a societal construct.  I’ve had many women tell me that, although they’d never say so publicly, bald (not shaved) heads are turnoffs.  And men aren’t stupid, we pick up on this. 

The same probably goes for the women/weight connection.  Or the women/breast connection.  Men cannot help what they are attracted to, and women pick up on this.  But, I need to give it more thought.

I just think it’s weird that the two things I had always thought would change the most drastically with my body since adolescence never happened (at least not yet).

I Think It’s Terrorism

Every single female I know in person is testy right now.  REALLY testy.

Except for Susie; I’ve known her for a few years now, and have never seen her grumpy.  Only a little perturbed, but never testy.  That’s amazing, when you think about it.

Anyway, this is unavoidable: I work with women, I’m in a band with four of them, and I live with two.  My personality makes me the “guy women like to treat like one of their girlfriends”.

Many of them are currently engaged in a contest to see which one can bite my head off first.

Something in the water supply, maybe?  I don’t know.  But, if you know me, you know that I am quite understanding and patient about these things.  But, usually, I’m dealing with one cranky person at a time.  This feels more like a siege.

I think it’s time for a guy-blogger only camping trip.  We need to talk about football and cars and hot women, and NOT talk about sex except in vague inuendos.  We need a weekend of parallel play.  We need to settle disagreements with fistfights instead of talking about our feelings, and once the fighting is over – no hard feelings, we’ll have a beer together and laugh about it all.

I need to be recharged in a bath of testosterone.  Then I can go back to being my usual, “guy that women like to treat as one of their girlfriends”.

I mean no offense to my female friends, who are the majority of my readers, but I’m having a hard time coping with this right now;  there’s no chance to come up for air between barrages of snippiness.

And interstingly, I don’t seem to have this problem in the virtual world.

So, I’ve Got A Big Question

Since weight, health, self-perception, and body consciousness seem to be big topics lately, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection about this.  And in my introspection, I found an interesting side issue.  Let me see if I can properly express what I’m trying to say.

There is a subset of heterosexual men who enjoy seeing females  in “real woman” form.  I belong to this subset.  Although we are called many names,  I actually believe we are the majority of men.  Our sex symbols might include Kirstie Alley (yes, Kirstie Alley before or after Jenny Craig), Trishia Yearwood, America Ferrera, for the tackier among us there was Anna Nichole Smith, and of course, there’s the twin pinnacles of full-figured sex symbols: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.  There are many, many others that come to mind.  The point is, a girl can be a size twelve or more and still be a sex symbol to millions of American men.

Quick, name an group of equivalent men.  You know, guys who aren’t chiseled, but flabby, even fat, yet are considered sex symbols to millions of American girls. Go on, look it up – I’ll wait.

And no cheating.  Don’t list someone who is considered a sex symbol because they are are wealthy, or have a certain amount of charm.  I’d like to see your list of men who are loved for their bodies even though their bodies are not ideal.

No?  OK, just one, then.  And although sweet, “my husband” doesn’t count, because the discussion here is focusing on celebrity sex symbols, and the reasons spouses are considered sexy are far more complex than what we’re discussing.

If you can find one, you’re doing better than me.

You see, it occurred to me that if you are a woman and “bigger”, you can still be a sex symbol.  Just accentuate your boobs and look at the camera a certain way.  If you’re a man, you’d better hit the gym, or be relegated to “Uncle Harry” roles.

It’s a double standard that had never occurred to me before, until now.

And we men are not even allowed to whine about it, lest we be called wimps.

On Beauty And Youth

I’m going to say a few things about some issues that get all tangled together; I want to take them apart and see each one on its own merits.  I fear I may be branded a heretic, but I’m just trying to be as honest as possible.

Josh Tinley’s great post about the sexualization of female athletes (based on a highly ironic online article on SI.com) got me to thinking.  There is a high probability when discussing sexism (for purposes of this discussion, I mean the objectification of a person as solely a sexual object), that the discussion will eventually get to standards of beauty, followed by a quick degradation to personal characteristics, in which feelings get hurt.  It is impossible, I believe, to discuss one without the other magically appearing somewhere along the way.  We all measure ourselves.

A great evil in the world is outwardly treating people differently (or even with malice)  because they don’t fit one’s personal standard of beauty (I use this term for brevity – it applies to both men and women.  Guys, substitute “handsomeness” if it makes you feel more manly).  I have personally been stung by this evil more times than I can mention.  Young, geeky and poor (monetary status is a standard of attractiveness in men, don’t deny it), I was mistreated horribly at one time in my life.  This is something I am very sensitive to.  If I ever catch you making degrading comments about someone’s appearance, you can expect an uncharacteristic tongue lashing from me.

But here’s where it gets tricky.  I’ve seen more discussions than I can count where someone is arguing against the definition of the standard of beauty, and even the existence of the standard itself.  And I understand the impulse, I’ve actually succumbed to it many times myself.  But, as I get older, I think that this line of thinking can only lead to bitterness, because no matter how hard we slam ourselves against the wall of beauty standards, the wall remains, and we walk away bruised and beaten. 

You might as well be arguing against society’s need for oxygen.

There are two things that cannot be changed no matter what we do: human beings are sexual beings, and some things are aesthetically pleasing, while other things are less so. 

Now, dangit, before y’all get your dander all up, let me repeat what I’ve always said:  every female on earth has a beauty to me, simply from her “otherness”.  I am mesmerized by each and every one of you.  All of you are wonderfully made.  Even Helen Thomas. 🙂 (That’s a FReeper joke, if you’re wondering why I brought her into this).

But the fact remains: a sunset at the beach is more pleasing to look at than a junkyard.  It just is.  It’s also more pleasing than a backyard, although a backyard is pleasing in its own way.  I think most of us are backyards.  Some are parks, some are lake-sides, some are woods, some are mountain vistas.  I’ve known some junkies who were NYC housing projects.  Nevertheless, we are all pleasing to look at in our way.  But we are not all equally pleasing.

I don’t believe the standard itself is unnatural.  I think we all carry our own with us, and, whether we want to admit it or not, we measure each other against it.  Not for value as a person, unless we are no-good lowdown pigs.  But we nevertheless place each other on an attractiveness scale.  There’s no use denying it.

There is some argument whether our own personal definitions of beauty are unduly influenced by societal norms, or media, or the fashion industry.  There is a valid argument that this is true inside a gender.  I do not believe it is true between the genders.  Case in point: fashion models.  I know NO man who is attracted to the stick figures who make up the modeling world.  None.  As an aside, does it mean anything that there is a prevalence of gay men in the fashion industry, and the majority of female models have bodies like 14 year old boys?  But, I digress.

I don’t know where the personal standard comes from; our own opposite-sex parent is part of it, I know.  Some of it defies description: why do I find red hair more attractive than blond hair?  Beats me.  But I know this, even the people who rail against these standards have their own. 

Then, something comes into the picture which is even more problematic.  Young people, as a general rule, are more aesthetically pleasing than us older folks.  There are exceptions, but this is a truism.  I look forward every year to the arrival of the summer interns at SCC.  Not because I’m keen on ogling the female interns (hips are important to me, and most early-twenty-something women lack them), but because there is a new beauty and energy infused into the workplace.  Normally, my building is filled with staid, old-guard geeks.  The introduction of youth to the building creates an electricity that isn’t there at any other time of the year.  Even if the interns were all male (something that would no doubt please the redneck Canadian), this would be true.

When following NASCAR, I usually cheer for the old guys, because I can relate to them.  But it’s always good when Casey Kahne gets interviewed, because that’s one pretty man.  Even I like looking at him.  He probably won’t be quite as pretty when he gets older. Jeff Gordon is no longer the young, hotshot, good-looking driver.  He doesn’t have a commercial where women are dreaming about him, as Kahne does. BUT, beauty is not everything: he’s having one of the best years of his career.

I guess I’m thinking about all of this because it’s really starting to hit me personally.  I’m coming up on 40 lbs lost this year.  I’ve done quite a few other things to make myself more “aestetically pleasing”.  Yet, not only is it harder to accomplish this at 42 than it was at 35, even the results aren’t as good.  One of my main goals was to regain the chiseled lines on my face that I had in my heyday.  But alas, although I’ve lost 90% of the fat from my belly, I still have “waddles” under my cheeks.

Damn.  It’s finally caught up with me.  Getting in shape is no longer the magic formula for achieving attractiveness  anymore.  The best I can do now, is “pretty good looking for an old guy”.

And, you know what? I’m OK with that.  My wife loves me; as I get more in shape, she gives me “that look” more often.  And in the end, she’s the woman I want to attract.  I love the fact that I can still get that look from her at all.  I will not rail against society’s obsession with youth and beauty.  I’ll do the best I can, and accept my place.  Like Gordon, I’m enjoying other successes in my life. 

Anyway, there are other reasons to get in shape besides vanity (which, can you tell, I have oodles of?).  As a man, it is good to take stock of your body and know you are strong.  And I am getting stronger day by day.

And what’s wrong with being attractive “for an old guy”?  I’m not there yet, but I’ll take it, if I can get it.

Infantile

My post on Mary Winkler really stirred things up yesterday, in ways I did not expect.  It really was just supposed to be an academic exercise in demographics; a field of study which I really enjoy.  But, the best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. There was unexpected hostility from some quarters, and from others I had expected much hostility, but received reasoned and thoughtful responses. It was probably the most topsy turvy response to any post I’ve ever written.

But, sometimes God takes some silliness that we intend, and uses it for His own purposes to teach us.  I want to take a step back and learn a few things.  I’ll probably have several heart to hearts with newscoma.  Not long ago, someone used a term about me that stung to the bone: infantile.  In other words, if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  Being a grown man, thinking I’m somewhat intelligent, that hurt horribly.  No man like to be condescended to.  However, I’m slowly starting to think it’s an appropriate word.  Let me explain.

My father is a big bear of a man.  Six foot seven, around 240 lbs most of his life.  He was a machinist, which at the time was both a very technical job, while at the same time involved much manual labor.  He was a very large, strong, hard, intimidating presence.  With all of the troubles in my childhood, nobody messed with me when my dad was around.  He looked like the kind of man who could kill another man with one punch.

Combine that with a very young marriage and fatherhood, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Yet, looking back, he never, ever raised his hand to any of us in anger.  Granted, the situation didn’t arise much.  His mere appearance meant he could walk into a room, and we’d behave.  “Wait till your father gets home” had added meaning for us boys.  There were controlled, physical punishments, and I know some of y’all consider that violence and abuse, but I do not.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but my father is a man of great restraint.

And his relationship with my mother?  Y’all, they could make a movie about those two.  Granted, most of it would be boring, but as they approach 50 years together (OMG!), their relationship is awe-inspiring.  There is so much I could tell you, but to stay on point, I’ll say that my father would rather chop off his own hand than strike my mother.  I  know many of y’all take offense to this word, but he cherishes her. There is much that I could go into about their history, about how it would have been quite easy to give up on her (especially in the 70’s, when everyone else was dissolving their marriages),  but this is their own business.  So, starting out, you could say I have no frame of reference for abusive relationships.

I always thought the way my parents would never  spend a moment apart if they could help it was kind of creepy, yet, as time goes by, Lintilla and I are becoming the same way.  How could I possibly hurt the other part of me?  I truly do love her more than myself, I cannot imagine striking her or even saying hurtful things on purpose (I say plenty of hurtful things, not on purpose, as many of you know; the polite thing is to admit it and apologize).  I can be an idiot, but it’s really something I can’t imagine, hurting my best friend, the love of my life.

And now, we get to the third generation in my frame of reference.  There’s one rule in our household that Zaphod used to hate: no male can ever strike a female, even if she hits you first.  I tried to explain to Zaphod that, it might be a fair fight now, but in just a few years he will be so much bigger and strong than the girls; if he’s used to hitting them then, it will be hard to stop.  He would get quite angry with me when I would punish him for fighting back when a girl hit him on the playground.

Y’all, this is hard to write without tearing up.  I am SOOOO proud of him!  He’s a big boy; he’s taller than most of his classmates, and heavier than all of them.  I’ve seen situations lately when a little holy female terror would provoke him physically, needling him, pushing him.  Yet, he’s only ten years old, and he shows an incredible amount of restraint.  He follows my wishes; he never, ever strikes a girl. It’s hard to explain just how proud of that boy I am.  Just thinking of it, I feel my heart might burst.

So, the situation is set up for my frame of reference to be “infantile”.  Lintilla, before she met me, had come out of an abusive marriage (the idiot was in jail by the time I met Lintilla, in fact).  But given my frame of reference, my assumption was that “doopy-head”, as she called him, was a rarity amongst men, that the vast majority were like my father and me.

Yesterday’s discussion makes me think I might have been wrong.  There is a dark, dark underbelly to the world that I know nothing about.  I’m wondering if men like my father are in the minority.  I know my theology speaks of the depravity of man, but we Methodists throw that term around, not giving it any weight.  What if the depravity is not some theological academic concept, but a real thing where real people get hurt?

If I walk down the street, how many men that I pass are slapping their wives around at home?  I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not a majority of them.

And it breaks my heart that there’s little I can do about it, except to spread the transforming love of Jesus, give money to battered women’s shelters, and to raise my son to be a real man, and behave toward my wife in a way that shows my daughter what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. Then, maybe my grandchildren will be just as infantile about these things as I am.

I’d like to thank Aunt B, who wrote a post that moved me to tears.  Like I said, I have a lot of thinking to do.