Archive for January, 2009

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On Cigars and Emoting

27 January 2009

“A good cigar is as great a comfort to a man as a good cry is to a woman.”

     – Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Darnley

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Toronto Father Regains Custody in “Alienation” Suit

24 January 2009

In a rare and perhaps significant case in Toronto this month, a father was awarded full custody of his three daughters on the basis of “alienation” techniques used by the mother.  Justice Kaye McWatt of the Superior Court of Justice decided that the mother, a foot doctor, had “consistently and overwhelmingly” thwarted her ex-husband’s attempts to maintain a relationship with his daughters over the course of several years.  She had, for instance, hung up the phone on him when he called to say goodnight, or slammed the door in his face when he tried to pick the girls up for court-permitted visitation.  On the basis of professional testimony about “parental alienation syndrome” Judge McWatt made the unusual move of inverting the custody rights.

I doubt this will set a definitive precedent for other courts to follow.  While this case seemed more clear-cut, how is one supposed to distinguish between common (and ubiquitous) alienating language which ex’s use in front of their children and an actual “syndrome”?  And aren’t there plenty of cases in which mothers are protecting from parental irregularities and abuses from the father?

That being said, I’m happy that fathers are beginning to see some hope in the court system.  Men’s rights groups have been crying foul on this very point for decades, that fathers are systematically discriminated against in custody cases and that mothers are able to get away with court violations with almost no repercussions.  If one admits that there is a de facto hole in women’s economic and political rights, then one must grant the same about men when it comes to de jure rights in the home.  The domestic sphere still belongs to the woman in the public mind, and this results in greater clout for mothers in court battles.  There are exceptions, as this case shows.  Though isn’t it telling that the father, a vascular surgeon, managed to win the case only after a lengthy and expensive court battle?

Maybe attitudes are changing, even as the alienation is passed around liberally.  The Greeks had Chronos and Rhea.  We have Kevin Federline and Britney Spears.  Anyone else feel a little queasy?

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Mr. T to British Men: “Get Some Nuts”

12 January 2009

In July 2008 Snickers launched a new campaign, featuring the one and only Mr. T (from A-Team, Rocky III, etc.).  In the ads Mr. T harrassed men who somehow lacked the macho vibe needed to be  a “real man,” such as speedwalkers and soccer players who fake injuries.  Driving a tank or some other destructive vehicle, the mohawked hero would procede to throw or shoot Snickers bars at these pastey counterparts, finishing the ad with the blatant double entendre, “Get some nuts.” 
mr-t-tough
Within weeks Snickers yanked it off the airwaves, in response to outcry that the ads, particularly the speedwalker one(the walker is portrayed as especially effeminate), were targeting homosexuals.  Statistically speaking, these protesters were right.  Say what you will in defense, but it doesn’t take a cross-dressing rocket scientist to figure out how many people would, rightly or wrongly, interpret the speedwalker’s outfit and demeanor as stereotypically gay.   Snickers had to have seen this coming. 

But let’s consider what else is going on here.  An interview done around the same time (see here) struck me as particularly humorous, and particularly important for understanding the broader context.  Mr. T procedes to rant against any perceived weakness in men: wine bars, pouting, yoga, non-contact sports, fake tans, tight clothing, man bags and fashion in general.  When asked about how he would address the men of Britain?  “Just be tough.”  Of course, he also advocates going to the pubs less, and making a greater effort to be romantic with one’s significant other.  “Treat the ladies with respect.”

It’s hard to say how much Mr. T buys into his own binary model of gender: men should be tough, women shouldn’t.  Sigmund Freud taught a similar monoessentialism, built around the idea that masculinity was the exercise of proactivity, whereas femininity was receptivity.   Men are characterized by self-assertion, boldness, even aggression.  Women, they, well, respond.  Feminist scholars have rightly pointed out that this kind of oppositionalizing construes women in terms of deprivation more than mere “difference.”  Not that Mr. T seems to be concerned about all this.  His point is more straightforward.  Aside from buying Snickers, men need to pursue life with more vigor – and bigger biceps. 

I’m especially interested in why Snickers felt this would fit so well in the United Kingdom.  While the LGBT community took offence, heterosexual men (even softer, more sensitive men) there did not.   Is this because British men in general are secure enough in their own conception of masculinity that Mr. T provides an opportunity to laugh at a bygone code, one especially rigid (and perhaps American)?  Or do British men feel a need for an archetypal presence to shame them into greater mental and physical toughness? 

Don’t all of us men all need a little Mr. T in our heads, driving us toward ballsy excellence?

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“Gay” the Preferred Term of Abuse

2 January 2009

A survey conducted in 2008 by the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) found the word “gay” to be the most common term of disrespect heard on school grounds in the UK.  83% interviewed said they heard the term being used, followed in popularity by “bitch” (59%) and “slag” (45%).  Most interestingly to me, every term of abuse reported went back to some reference to homosexuality when directed at males: “poof,” “batty boy,” “queer,” “homo,” “faggot,” “sissy.” 

Now while I’m not sure how the good ol’ fashioned “dickhead” didn’t make it’s way in, I can confirm in my recent experience that anti-homosexual language is the preferred method of verbal abuse among young men in both the UK and America.  Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality with the younger generations, teens have freely adopted hate language seeminly excoriating the same lifestyle.  Many of them do not connect the hate language with stigmatization of the gay lifestyle.  (In fact, I met a gay student at the University of South Dakota who admitted he too regularly used the word “gay” as an insult.)  The power of the insult seems to be derived not so much from the attribution of sexual perversion per se, as it might have a decade or two ago.  Teens rather relish the idea of perversion.  Instead, it stems from the social connotations stereotypically associated with homosexuals, namely, that they are weak, unmanly, and unable to function in the world of men precisely because they cannot identify themselves as “real men.”  That is, saying to someone, “You’re such a fag” is equivalent to the sexist “You’re such a pussy” to the racist “You’re such a Jew” to anti-disability rhetoric in the form of “You’re such a retard.”  Each epithet attributes a sense of psycho-social lowliness.  We might say that homosexuality isn’t frowned upon so much for its moral status as its power status.

As the above article points out, “gay” has by and large replaced the insult “lame.”  True, although the article seems completely oblivious to the fact that “lame” is by no means a neutral term, as they insinuate.  It picks fun at a group of people quite unavoidably public in their own weakness: the physically debilitated.