The Struggle is Real, The Effort Worthwhile


It’s summertime up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite the countless joys that arrive with the season, for many of my female friends it is a mixed blessing. Their eagerness to bring out those light, cute, and comfortable outfits ready-made for the warm weather, or to sun bathe in a swimsuit at the beach is tempered by the frequency they are subjected to creepy, unwanted advances from sexually aroused males. The worst of these are the drive-by catcalls from men who can’t help but enthusiastically let a woman know she is the apple of their eye, telling her as much by imploring her to sit on their face or shake her tits.   

This sort of male misbehaviour is rooted in the belief that women are always signalling the degree of sexual attention they want from men. By outwardly, enthusiastically showing their arousal, so it goes, these men are fulfilling their role, which is to flatter the woman for a job well-done. In the not-too-distant past, this “taunt and react” dynamic was touted as a normal, functional way of mediating sexual relations. In reality, it led to legions of women being sexually assaulted and raped by men socialized to believe their entitlement to sex was affirmed by the clothes a woman wore. 

In the eighties, when I came of age, there were cultural memes predicated on packs of guys “cruising” in cars with the top down on a Saturday night howling and jeering as they drove past a throng of gals. For their part, the women would bat their lashes in response to the ape-like affections of the men, which were sought after and desired. Thanks to popular culture, which depicted every encounter between men and women as a spar with a sexual sub-text, there are generations of men conditioned to believe the only reason women wear clothes, or do anything for that matter, is to attract the sexual attentions of a man. At the heart of these outmoded ideas is an obsession with what women wear. The old assumption is that women who wear provocative clothing are revealing something meaningful about their sexual inclinations. It is a sad, lingering relic of a bygone era.

I won’t deny it. Because I am a flesh and blood heterosexual man with a functioning set of eyes, when an attractive woman wearing clothing that flatters her impressive features passes my gaze, there is an instant, biologically-predetermined reaction. It hails from a relatively primitive part of our evolutionary brain – the limbic system. There’s an instinctive part of me that instantly craves to ogle, to leer, or to fuck, urges which I am aware conflict with the ardent feminist I aspire to be. 

That insight arises in the blink of an eye, rousing my pre-frontal cortex, which kicks in and subsumes the urge to beat my chest – or beat something else – beneath the thought, “Ahem, your leering and your thoughts are verging on the ungentlemanly. Cut it out.” Most days this tack works. When it doesn’t instantly kick in, and I catch myself leering maybe a little longer than I consider to be civilized, I say a metaphysical “Sorry ladies,” and implore myself to keep my head in the game. 

Thankfully, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is synthesizing these ethical intentions into a set of guidelines to help me conduct myself in a civilized way. The PFC is the part of our brains that distinguishes humans as the most intelligent beings on the planet, despite certain striking instances to the contrary. In the throes of a carnal response to the physical presence of an attractive woman, the PFC stirs me to behave as if I really believed a woman ought to be treated like a human being, rather than as a living, breathing wank machine. When my limbic system protests against the PFC’s civilizing dictates, the PFC overrules it. 

The important thing to note is the emotional interplay between the two parts of the brain arising from the same sexual impulse. This reality refutes those who posit that men’s sexual behaviour is pre-determined as residing in one part of the brain versus the other. That is false. There is a dynamic between the parts of the brain which males must gain mastery of if they intend to behave in sexually appropriate ways. The lynchpin here is to have the intention to behave appropriately in the first place. 

Assuming the good intention exists, the key to the PFC gaining primacy in this inner conflict is to ensure a conscious effort to impart the lessons about appropriate standards of behaviour towards women routinely occurs. The curriculum to which males appeal to shape their values in these matters is significantly influenced by the culture. Unfortunately, if the culture harbours unhealthy sexual norms, then society teaches, reinforces, and perpetuates sexually unhealthy behaviours among its men. Depending on the culture, the curriculum by which boys are taught to become men may be dreadfully flawed. If a culture lacks the ethical intention to treat women as equals, the motivation to evolve commensurate behaviours is not instilled in individual males.  

We may say we live in an “individualistic” society, but in truth, how men behave towards women is greatly influenced by the culture in which they live. Through sexist media and social structures our culture is constantly modelling for boys and young men a particularly sexist way of relating to girls and women. On the other hand, there is an expectation that men become individuals who behave differently than the culture that reared them in their private sexual interactions with women. It’s a sociological fact that the transmission of feminist cultural ideals must actually be observed in the culture if the aim is to ensure they are adopted and exemplified by a society’s males. A sexist culture creates sexist individuals. It’s an axiom we cannot ignore if we want men to do the right thing in their private encounters with women.  

In some cultures, awareness of the intense inner struggle between primal urges and moral conduct acts as a cautionary tale. A society’s males, seeking to conduct themselves with moral rectitude, become wary of the mere existence of these internal battles, which they sense can go either way. That fear fuels notions about how the struggle itself is the fault of women; it feeds the idea women must take ownership of the sexual animus they trigger in men. These ideas sustain cultural practices – usually in the form of religious codes – that dictate women dress and behave modestly. It’s a cultural sleight-of-hand that shifts the burden away from a society’s men so that women ultimately become responsible for moderating the degree of male sexual arousal in a society. 

This is a puerile resolution to the inner struggle of a society’s males, because it discourages each individual man from learning at an early age how to process and regulate their sexually-charged emotions. Our culture’s mixed signals about what constitutes sexually appropriate behaviour is a serious psycho-social issue that needs to be acknowledged and properly addressed. This will ensure there are fewer victims of sexual crimes by inculcating a culture of men with emotional intelligence, who are capable of exerting a degree self-control that discourages their sexual misconduct. 

In this respect, what does it say to young men that, despite the fact Americans were well aware that candidate Trump grabbed women’s pussies, he was elected US President? For all the young men grappling to control their sexual urges, are they learning from this that it’s as important to behave in sexually appropriate ways as it is to be rich and ambitious? To what ends are young men motivated to channel their cognitive energies: to that of learning how to respect women, or to that of amassing the wealth and power required to treat women however their carnal urges desire?  If we want to see appropriate sexual behaviours in men, we have to exemplify, reward, and teach the lessons consistent with that aim. 

As a man desperately trying to get beneath years of cultural conditioning where women were touted as objects of male gratification, I am aware the struggle to overcome sexual urges is very, very real. I engage in a lot of self reflection about this, certainly not because the predominant norms in my culture have compelled me to do so, but because I am aware that my responsibility to foster healthy sexual behaviours comes in the face of intense, biologically-determined cravings. Men have to acknowledge the presence of these primitive cravings, which exist in the same measure as they would have among our evolutionary forebears, despite how intellectually advanced our societies have otherwise become. It’s a strange paradox, and it requires we expend greater conscious efforts to the task of moderating these impulses so our behaviour is consistent with evolving norms about what it means to be civilized sexual beings. 

As men, we must decide which part of our brain we want to heed: the advanced part that sets us apart as human beings, or the a-moral, pre-evolutionary part we share with reptiles and other less intelligent animals. I choose to be a civilized human being. I have to make a conscious effort to establish in my PFC a benchmark of what it means to be respectful to a woman and act accordingly, despite the primitive urges that arise in her presence; despite the culture which continues to normalize a decidedly misogynist benchmark. The responsibility for regulating these urges when it matters is mine alone, and I wouldn’t put that on a woman. 

It would help if our culture didn’t keep telling young boys and men that women are sex objects and reinforcing unhealthy ideas about women that impede their learning of functional sexual behaviours. We are subjected to an unceasing barrage of images and ideas from mainstream culture that piques and reinforces our consumerist desires by sexualizing and objectifying women. This conflicts with, and undermines, efforts to instil norms of self-control in men. Regulating sexually-charged emotions is a cognitive process that must be learned like any other higher-order human function, because the desired behaviours hail from the pre-frontal cortex. When we expect these behaviours to kick in they are fending off the strong, anti-social impulses of the limbic system. Unfortunately, this part of our brain is constantly being titillated by a sexualized, stimulus-addicted culture, which makes it a formidable force to reckon with. 

That isn’t to make excuses for men, it is to say that it takes effort on our part to do what is right in respect of women. It is also to say that culture has a role to play in normalizing healthy attitudes and behaviours about how men relate to women at the office, at home, and in our bedrooms. The biggest first step however, is for men to recognize the struggle to control impulses within ourselves is real, it is natural, and women are not to blame for its existence. The responsibility for doing what it takes to resolve conflicting feelings and emotions is on us as individuals. 

It means that we cannot sit and wait for the mainstream culture to reflect modern values about gender, because we are ourselves arbiters and transmitters of those values. Young men look to how I and my peers conduct ourselves for their signals about what is and isn’t acceptable. I take that role very seriously and I urge my mid-life male peers to do the same. Our role as cultural agents compels us to pro-actively stir a cognitive shift when we recognize some of our attitudes and behaviours are rooted in sexist dogmas of our upbringing. We are key influencers in the culture to which the next generations of men will appeal for norms about how to behave with respect to women. I will cringe if, in thirty years’ time, a figure like Donald Trump is emblematic of my generation of men and is still winning society’s greatest rewards despite his retrograde, morally decrepit views about women. 

A concerted effort to avoid the ill-effects of misogyny from poisoning the behaviour of men will always be necessary. Nature has seen to that. The reasons to expend those energies – to secure a future where women are treated as equals instead of as objects or as victims – have never been more compelling, and makes the effort absolutely worthwhile. 

So Sick of the Sausage Factory

One big, happy family

One big, happy family

Woe is humanity, suffering the legions of uber-douche bags crushing their spirits. I refer to this potent variety of toxic sludge as a Dick, because that is the source of their inspiration. It’s also one thing I can say about them that makes me laugh. What isn’t funny is the reckless abandon with which they swing their entitled skin-flute machetes, cutting down whomever stands in the way of their quest for Mommy’s love – I mean, power. They lie, cheat, and steal through life, leaving a trail of innocent victims buried under a heap of man-splaining, belittling, hectoring excrement.

It seems futile to waste a shred of energy imploring the Dicks out there to reflect on just how miserable they make the lives of those they touch. I doubt they care, but venting about the pandemic of Dicks plaguing our societies can be both empowering and enlightening. As part of my evolving spiritual journey toward what I hope will be the Dick-less corridors of Nirvana, there are bound to be moments where I am forced to cross the raging rivers of my own bile.

The act of reflecting back on these moments, of having to stay mentally afloat among the torrent of indignant rage to coherently share my thoughts, lends an air of detachment to the sordid splendour of their existence. It makes me feel more like an observer than a victim. Plus, the more I own up to how easily provoked I am by their bullshit, the more I learn about the easily unhinged parts of my mind. It encourages a redoubling of efforts to pro-actively cultivate emotional intelligence.

I see putative, self-styled “Christians” on American television man-splaining to the Pope why he’s a wrong-headed ‘liberal’ for castigating the greed that destroyed America’s soul and poisoned its religion. I see political hacks with educational degrees in History or Phys Ed laughing-off the world’s leading scientists about climate change, imploring us to laugh with them as the polar ice cap melts and more dry land is submerged every day. I see the country-clubber with the charmed life, champagne dribbling from the corner of his self-satisfied grin, earn his keep moonlighting as a thespian. He grabs his balls, dusts off his best redneck accent, and masterfully delivers his line to fellow citizens “Y’all ain’t a-gettin’ the guns God gave me!”

I can’t un-see or un-hear the reams of spirit-crushing nonsense so many grown adults seem to believe, and it really pisses me off. I want to grab my pitchfork and storm the palaces nearby to reclaim the public proceeds and tax loopholes that are rightfully ours. I want to liberate the exploited immigrant slaves from their domestic bondage in plutocrat’s homes, and the exploited white slaves from their below-subsistence jobs at the plutocrat-owned discount outlet stores. I want to punch in the face the next smug, strident Dick who denies any role for white, male privilege in securing his fortunes. I fantasize about a crowd of Dicks outside a Church blowing their dog-whistles loudly at Jesus and his guests for consecrating the nuptials between Adam and Steve, only to learn they’re surrounded by packs of hungry, rabid dogs summoned from miles around. One can dare to dream.

And then it’s the next morning. I do my thing – yoga and meditate – to rid my soul of the wayward heaps of manure that landed there as the zealots aimlessly tossed it about. Instead of indignant fury, my mind is like, ‘Namaste Dick, you misguided asshole, Namaste.’ I still care about the poor and oppressed, and I wish Dick would cut it out. Except it’s not worth being so angry about it that my day, and that of anyone who encounters me, is ruined. There are other ways, besides punching-out well-deserving, smug Dicks, to get relief.

That said, these days the stables are piling up with turd faster than my trusty spirit-shovel can keep up. Lately, Dick has been hard to shake. The pig-barn of election Politics is to blame. In my country, the Dick Head – the Prime Minister – decided to have a three-month election campaign – unheard of in Canadian politics. Add to that the US Presidential nominations, which are shoved down Canadian throats via US cable feeds, and it’s like a tornado picked up my house and dropped it into the middle of a continental sausage factory.

Dicks are flung in my face from all directions, pandering, sloganeering, fear-mongering, scapegoating. Senseless political munchkins are throat-singing their sexist, racist, greedy, jingoistic overtures to their intellectually-stunted political bases over, and over, and over again. “We represent the dick-head guild, the dick-head guild, the dick head guild … ” Where are my red shoes to take me home, Dorothy?

There aren’t just Dicks stumping on television, there’s the run-of-the-mill Dick at the office; the one I’ve lamented in a previous post. He crawls his way to the top shelf on the backs of others, and is the variety of Dick most of us experience in our daily lives. My dear friend, a female co-worker in another city, works in a Division with a legendary misogynist I once worked with. He inspired my rant about the office Dick. With exasperation, she shows me the e-mails he writes to her or others. I remember the tenor of this Dick’s e-mails very well. When I overheard him speak to a woman or read one of his smug Neanderthal messages to them I wanted to accidentally shove him down the stairwell. She asks me if she is over-reacting in shoving her feisty Irish fist up the Dick’s ass. I suspect it’s why he keeps on – he enjoys it. I recommend she aim her pointy boots at his undescended testicle instead.

The Dick at the office is no different than the political Dicks scape-goating the large swaths of society they want to sweep under the rug to serve their selfish aims. The common thread is the entitlement to forcefully steamroll you or I to get what he wants. His beliefs, wants, and needs, no matter how crass or insanely stupid, are yelled in your face. He is entitled to behave like a scumbag and the rest of us are supposed to just take it without kicking up a fuss or punching him in the face. He defends his ethically barren actions with fact-free rationalizations that satisfy his infinitesimal intellect.

Why is he like this? Because Dick was churned out of the sausage factory. He has been gnawing on a meal of nutrient-deprived, idiotic gristle his entire life to keep himself fed. He likes his sausage. Nay, he believes in his sausage.

Like many women out there, I am so sick of the sausage factory. It’s fucking exhausting. I am so done with the slander and lies men wantonly use to justify their degenerate ideas. I am sick of watching men telling women what to believe, where to work, what to wear, and who to fuck. I am livid with men who want to kick the poor and disenfranchised while they’re already down just so they can keep the pocket-change to buy another mansion. I am weary of the deluge of verbal diarrhea from the mouths of chest-beating men whose incessant primal screams are meant not to persuade, but to crush the will of others into ideological submission.

It’s time to get with the new millennium, my fellow sausages.

Yes, I too have a sausage. I was programmed to be a Dick like the others, and I was once pretty good at it. But I realized how damaging that was for my kids and every one else. It hasn’t been easy opting out of the club while keeping my meat intact. I was manufactured on the same assembly line stuffing formless young men with affinities for greed, power, corruption, and cruelty. At the end of the line, we are twisted and churned out as individual sausages, but remain linked together as men; a single chain by which to shackle and subjugate humanity.

I can’t deny it, the first thought that crossed my mind was to ass-kick the guy for making my female friend’s life miserable. It’s not what she wanted or asked for, but it’s what would make me feel good. It’s kind of typical of the way a Dick thinks. ‘There, there, my lady-friend, Dick knows best’, right? So much to be done, Edmund.

I can’t deny it, sometimes when my eyes meet with those of a really attractive woman and there’s a momentary spark, the sausage wants to – well, you know what it wants to do. I was trained to think it is perfectly acceptable to whet my sexual appetites with an objectified woman; to use them for my gratification. Sample any mainstream cultural product from the late seventies and eighties and you will see it isn’t nature that made men this way. We were taught to be this way.

As a young man, I grew up learning the Dicks get the pretty, vapid, one-dimensional girl, as they were all touted to be. Movies and television taught the young me that emotionally-detached, ruthless, shrewd, charming, power-hungry, zealous men get the prize. Pouty-lipped women swoon for the corrupt-hero, fighter-pilot, or conniving-huckster. They wait in the wings as the Dick they love desecrates the world, and eagerly give their bodies to satisfy his carnal desires without demanding genuine respect in return for their affections. For a teen-aged boy with his brain pickled in testosterone, deeply dysfunctional mental ruts are easily formed when such gendered caricatures bombard his grey matter from every direction.

If I continue to harbour the idea that my sausage is a weapon to conquer the world; that a woman is just a sexy bun, I would be a typical Dick, wouldn’t I? If I said to myself “boys will be boys” – conveniently, after I’ve been a total asshole – it would mean the sausage reigns, just as intended when I was churned out of the factory. I need to work harder, figuratively speaking, to sever my link to the shackles that confine our collective imagination of what it is to be a man. We all do, if we want a planet for our children to enjoy happy, peaceful lives.

Edmund K Saunders, Dick-free sausage. I like the sound of that. If only I could hear myself say it over the roar of irate men, feverishly man-splaining to keep their ill-gotten entitlements.